Dance review: Somos, Neilson Studio, Sydney

A world dance premiere with a distinctly Spanish flavour.

Somos is the latest work from Sydney Dance Company, choreographed by SDC Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela. With a career spanning from the world of collaborations with pop-art troubadours like Kylie Minogue and Tina Turner, to the high-art elite spaces of Lenka Clayton and Toni Matičevski, it’s clear he knows how to impress an audience.

Bonachela has been leading the path for the company since 2009, and it is now, 15 years later, that he has decided to truly explore his Spanish roots through contemporary dance. 

In an interview on the company website, Bonachela says, ‘Sometimes we do improvisations and other times I love the good old-fashioned approach of making steps on the spot. It’s really satisfying to … provoke the dancers to find new paths and create the structure and architecture of the piece there and then.’ It’s an approach that clearly works, as Somos has the feeling of a living, breathing expression of an idea or perspective. Having said that, each performer of the ensemble is also able to bring their own identity and individual flair to the movement. 

This world premiere performance is staged in the intimate setting of the Neilson Studio, where the audience is seated on all four sides of the stage looking the performers almost directly in the eyes. With its hazy atmosphere, mirrored flooring and shredded translucent curtains, the studio is transformed into a dreamlike space where past memories fade into a distant drumbeat. There’s an unpredictability to Bonachela’s choreography, where a simple presentation of bodies existing within a space can radically become sharp and severe.

Whatever sentimentality exists is quickly and brutally vanquished by another movement or the introduction of another dancer. The hypnotic and deeply seductive choreography is emphasised by the lacy, leathery costume design, where showing skin is considered a prerequisite. Kelsey Lee’s set and costume designs are expertly tuned to depict a thorough and intimate deconstruction of the human body.

The lighting by Damien Cooper is simple yet effective, employing lights beaming vertically, rather than horizontally across the stage area, to illustrate the muscular athleticism of the ensemble.  

The experience is elevated by the fanciful inclusion of Bar Boca, a pop-up tapas bar serving Spanish treats before the performance. Indulgences include, but are not limited to, empanadas with pico de gallo, crispy salmon tacos and kingfish crudo.

Read: Film reviews: Flora on the Sand (1964) and Juvenile Jungle (1956), Japanese Film Festival

Clocking in at under an hour, Somos is an experience in which Bonachela rewrites the rules of contemporary dance in his own image, crafting a fresh and elemental production that will excite and entice dance lovers everywhere

Sydney Dance Company
Choreography: Rafael Bonachela
Set and Costume Design: Kelsey Lee
Lighting Design: Damien Cooper

Cast: Chloe Young, Coco Wood, Connor McMahon, Dean Elliott, Emily Seymour, Jesse Scales, Liam Green, Luke Hayward, Madeline Harms, Morgan Hurrell, Naiara de Matos, Piran Scott, Riley Fitzgerald, Sophie Jones

Tickets: $35-$85

Somos will be performed until 18 November 2023.

Matthew is a writer, director, actor, and critic from Newcastle. He holds a Bachelor of Arts (English Writing), and is now studying a Master of Applied Linguistics. You can find him on Instagram @matthewcollinsesq