Dance review: GöteborgsOperans Danskompani, Sydney Festival

Two works by starkly different choreographers exemplified the uniting vision of this leading Swedish contemporary dance company.
‘Skid’ by Damien Jalet for GöteborgsOperans Danskompani. Photo: Lennart Sjoberg. Dancers battling gravity on a tilted white stage. They are upright with knees bent and arms in different movements.

Swedish dance company GöteborgsOperans Danskompani brought two Australian exclusives to the Sydney Festival this year in a double-bill performance. Skid by Damien Jalet and SAABA by Sharon Eyal offered a glimpse into the company’s daring ambition, with an ensemble of dancers who were clearly equally committed to that vision.

Skid premiered in 2017 and was performed on a 34-degree slope throughout its entire 45-minute duration – a challenge of endurance, control and conviction for the ensemble of 17 dancers who stood, glided, climbed and threw themselves across the surface.

What began as a slow dribble of bodies sliding down the stark-white tilted platform soon became a hurricane of calculated chaos. As the dancers hurled themselves and each other in different directions, they were transformed into abstract expressions of routine and narrative.

Discipline took over in the next chapter of Skid, as the dancers leapfrogged in formation with costume design (Jean-Paul Lespagnard) that recalled the crew uniform for a starship. Synergy within the team was an absolute must and, when one slid or tripped, they were instantly tugged up by others.

With such a challenging set-up, the audience was caught between being impressed by the resulting choreography, but also noting the visible strain this placed on the dancers when fatigue began to take hold. In the performance this reviewer saw on 25 January, some of the movements appeared offbeat while, in another section, the music ended well before the two dancers could finish their routine.

The beauty of Skid and its emotive power, however, also lay in its perseverance, most strongly exemplified in the ending scene – a symbolic rebirth that pushed the performer to physical exertion.

In contrast to Skid’s focus on technicality and form, Eyal‘s SAABA was cheeky, seductive and, at times, a little sinister. The Israeli choreographer is a third-time collaborator with GöteborgsOperans Danskompani, and also worked with Dior’s Creative Director Maria Grazia Chiuri on the dancers’ bodycon outfits for SAABA. The result was alluring, with the body-hugging garments delivering an almost transparent sheen that highlighted the dancers’ silhouettes and sculptural muscles.

‘SAABA’ by Sharon Eyal for GöteborgsOperans Danskompani. Image: Supplied. 13 dancers standing in a ‘V’ formation on a stage with purple and blue lighting, with their arms held out and on the tip of their toes.
‘SAABA’ by Sharon Eyal for GöteborgsOperans Danskompani. Image: Supplied.

SAABA blended delicacy and strength, with the dancers spending most of their time on their toes (demi-pointe), sporting ballet-inspired leg movements interwoven with a digital aesthetic. The twist of a torso and tuck of a hip were exaggerated, matching the undertones of drumming.

Patterns in the choreography soon started to emerge and, in certain segments, they appeared like a video on loop, or a gif where repeated movements can create a hypnotic effect. Yet when choreographed in succession, SAABA’s repetition felt overdone and detracted from its visual stimulation, as if you had stayed too long at the club after the alcohol has worn off.

Light, haze and the stage set-up added to the mysteriousness of SAABA, allowing its group of 13 dancers to seamlessly appear in and disappear out of view, alternating between solo repertoires and group routines. Individual personalities also added to the quirk of the routine but, together, the dancers formed a formidable flock. Sometimes they stood at the height of their pride and ego, while at others, they locked themselves in a choke, unable to break free.

Read: Performance reviews: A Bucket of Beetles and White Gold, Sydney Festival

Programmed together for the Sydney Festival, Skid and SAABA highlighted the strengths of each choreographer while also sharing the uniting vision of GöteborgsOperans Danskompani. Both were hauntingly captivating and pointed to the wild ride that characterises the human condition.

Choreographer: Damien Jalet
Assistant choreographer: Aimilios Arapoglou
Music: Christian Fennesz
Additional music: Marihiko Hara
Set design: Jim Hodges and Carlos Marques da Cruz
Costume design: Jean-Paul Lespagnard
Lighting design: Joakim Brink

Performers: Benjamin Behrends, Tsung-Hsien Chen, Zander Constant, Zachary Enquist, Emilía Gísladóttir, Sabine Groenendijk, Logan Hernandez, Hiroki Ichinose, Da Young Kim, Valērija Kuzmiča, Rachel McNamee, Einar Nikkerud, Anna Ozerskaia, Duncan C Schultz, Lee-Yuan Tu, Johanna Wernmo, Arika Yamada

Choreographer: Sharon Eyal
Co-creator: Gai Behar
Asstant choreographer: Rebecca Hytting 
Costume design: Maria Grazia Chiuri for the House of Dior
Composer: Ori Lichtik 
Lighting design: Alon Cohen

Performers: Benjamin Behrends, Mei Chen, Miguel Duarte, Valentin Durand, Hiroki Ichinose, Janine Koertge, Valērija Kuzmiča, lvo Mateus, Rachel McNamee, Riley O’Flynn

GöteborgsOperans Danskompani performed at Roslyn Packer Theatre as part of Sydney Festival from 23-28 January.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. Most recently she took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne.