License article

Different signals

For Sydney Dance Company director Rafael Bonachela, it all started with a sign. Well, signage in general. It intrigued him – and inspired him.
‘‘Traffic signs, public signs, man-made signs – there’s signage all around us. We’re not even aware of it,’’ he says.
They tell us when to stop, when to go, where to queue – our time and our movements are directed by them to a considerable extent. And they can evoke memories and emotions as well as represent them. That’s how  Bonachela is using them in his dance piece The Land of Yes & the Land of No which  premieres in Canberra this month.
‘‘They can express a desire  that resonates deeply in our lives,’’ he says. ‘‘That becomes the essence of the work. Signs in a way are the triggers.’’
And they can have more than one meaning. ‘‘'SPLIT' in life can mean, among other things,  a split between reason and emotion or in a romantic sense or by religion, race or distance, for example, providing numerous creative possibilities. Composer Ezio Bosso used three instruments – cello, violin and viola – in his original scoring for the section inspired by the three-arrowed ‘‘ROUNDABOUT’’ sign in which, Bonachela says, ‘‘two men and a woman are, in a sense,  going around in circles’’.
This was the first time Bonachela had commissioned an original score for one of his works.
‘‘From the beginning, the ideas for the dance and music came together. Ezio spent 10 days with us and we decided which songs connected more with us.’’ The resulting score was recorded to be used in the performances.  ‘‘The music is quite perfect, it’s something people connect with immediately. It’s driving and dynamic.’’ One song, Crossroads, had a particular meaning for Bonachela and his colleagues.
‘‘We realised, we decided our life it is all about chance and will or will and chance.’’ Although people use their will to make decisions, chance also plays a bit part ‘‘and it  can bring a lot of wonderful things to your life’’.
He says, ‘‘This is a very, very optimistic show, very entertaining at times, sensual and dynamic.’’ For him, ‘‘The great thing about contemporary dance is that it’s an umbrella – it can be very different and very rich. One thing I can say about my style is it’s dancing,  with capital letters.’’
The Land of Yes & the Land of No was created in London in 2009 where Bonachela headed his Bonachela Dance Company, had its premiere at the Ludwigsburg Festival in Germany and toured in Europe and Britain. Shortly thereafter he came to Australia to become artistic director of Sydney Dance Company and restaged the work there in an expanded version last year.
‘‘I’ve been at Sydney Dance Company three full years, this is the beginning of the fourth year,’’ he says. He’s now in his second term as director.
And, he says, ‘‘I couldn’t be happier: it’s an amazing  company and a great country. I’ve been to Australia many times.’’ Although he says he’s danced ‘‘all my life, since I can remember’’, he began formal lessons at the age of 15 in his native Spain then went to Britain where he was a dancer for 18 years before moving into choreography. And he doesn’t miss it since it’s difficult for dancers as they get older to stay in peak shape. ‘‘The only difference is I don’t dance on stage. People don’t pay to watch me; if you’re going to get people to pay you have to be the best.’’
He’s brought previous productions to Canberra – we unfold and Between Breath and Form – and says he loves coming to the Canberra Theatre, ‘‘because it’s always full. People in Canberra really appreciate dance and the arts in general.’’ While Bonachela is the choreographer and the company’s director, he’s generous in acknowledging the work of his collaborators – not just Bosso, but award-winning production designer Alan Macdonald, lighting designer Guy Hoare and costume designer Theo Clinkard.
But perhaps no one has worked as closely with him as Amy Hollingsworth. A graduate of the Australian Ballet School and former principal dancer with the New Zealand Ballet before heading to Europe and the challenging new world of modern dance, she’s the company’s dance director and a longtime Bonachela collaborator. Hollingsworth was a founding member of Bonachela’s London dance company working both as a performer  and assistant director and followed him to Sydney.  She describes her role as being the ‘‘engineer’’ to Bonachela’s ‘‘architect’’. She says he’s a fast thinker and creatively challenging, knowing she would rise to the occasion.
‘‘It’s almost like a marriage.’’   Like Bonachela, she’s retired from the stage.
She says, ‘‘It’s really nice passing on the role as well as helping the dancers learn all the other roles.’’ And like Bonachela, she seems happy.
‘‘The possibilities are endless: I’m enjoying the creative collaboration.’’ Also enjoying herself is dancer Charmene Yap. A graduate of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts with plenty of international experience, she joined Sydney Dance Company in 2010 and has performed in several Bonachela works including the previous production of The Land of Yes & the Land of No.
The work has  changed over time.
 ‘‘It has a softer quality to it, a lot more sculptural, paying attention in a different manner ... we’re not moving so fast, we’re more interested in softer moments and giving meaning to them.’’
And with the larger cast this time – 16 instead of 10 – she says, ‘‘My journey through it is not so hard – I’ve had worse!’’
The Land of Yes & The Land of No is on at the Canberra Theatre from June 28 to 30 at 7.30pm. Tickets $39-$63. Bookings: 62752700 or canberratheatrecentre.com.au