Frame of Mind: Quintett by William Forsythe, Frame of Mind by Rafael Bonachela. Sydney Dance Company, Canberra Theatre, 30 April-2 May.
How lucky Canberra audiences are that Sydney Dance Company continues to visit annually. This is a company for the 21st century. The works it presents are contemporary dance at its best; its dancers are superb artists and athletes; and its collaborators in design, lighting and music are always outstanding. Frame of Mind, the company's current offering, ticks all the boxes.
The program opens with William Forsythe's Quintett, and its acquisition by Sydney Dance Company is something of a coup in itself. Forsythe is one of the world's major choreographers and he doesn't give his works to other companies easily. Quintett, in particular, holds a special place in his heart as he made it as a final love letter to his wife who was dying of cancer.
The work is danced to the repetitive but ultimately optimistic chant, Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet, in its familiar arrangement by Gavin Bryars. The voice of a homeless man begins the chant, softly at first, and five dancers, three men and two women, begin a series of solos, duets and trios in complex choreographic arrangements.
But as the voice continues, and almost imperceptibly grows in power and volume, the choreography of Quintett begins to reveal itself and we are confronted by a range of emotions expressed through the dance. We see strength, energy, playfulness, fragility, spirit, vulnerability and a host of others. By the end the music has reached such an intensity that we have forgotten that it is repetitive, forgotten that the work is a tribute to a dying woman, despite the fact that the stage lighting darkens and a single dancer keeps disappearing into the darkness. As the curtain comes down, the voice is still chanting and the dance is continuing. There is no end.
Rafael Bonachela's new work, Frame of Mind, danced to music by Bryce Dessner, completes the program. Bonachela usually structures his works as a series of duets, trios and other combinations of dancers, and he did so again with Frame of Mind. But in this work often a duet or a trio will be watched by other members of the company who stand on the edges of the set. And Bonachela often has the whole company dancing in unison with choreography that is fast-paced and extreme. As with Quintett, after a while we are consumed by the emotional content of the work. This is one of Bonachela's particular strengths as a choreographer. He offers a look into what makes us human, but never demands that we see it his way.
It is always hard to single out any of Sydney Dance Company's dancers. They all move with absolute commitment and passion and all are unbelievably accomplished. But from a purely personal perspective, Sam Young-Wright stood out in Quintett for his ability to make those of Forsythe's moves that are based on the technique of ballet look absolutely stunning. In Frame of Mind I especially admired a duet danced by Richard Cilli and Charmene Yap and the final solo by Cass Mortimer Eipper, danced in a stream of light. But I often wonder how much further Sydney Dance Company and its dancers can take us. It is an incredible journey – every time.