It's a love letter to a dying wife, a masterpiece of dance from an American choreographer described as a "living legend" who very rarely allows the piece to be performed without his stewardship.
So for Rafael Bonachela, it was a "dream come true" when William Forsythe agreed to let the Sydney Dance Company perform his much-lauded 1994 dance work Quintett – the first time it's been performed in Australia.
"I saw the work in 1998, I was moved," Bonachela said. "This is one of those works where dance speaks volumes, where movement says everything. It's so deeply moving, strong but fragile."
The German-based Forsythe has been praised for "reorienting" ballet – shifting it from a classical to a modern art form.
He created in 1993 as a celebration of his wife, dancer Tracy-Kai Maier, who died of cancer before its premiere.
Bonachela, the Sydney Dance Company's artistic director, worked for two years to gain Forsythe's permission to perform Quintett, drawing on personal contacts.
"At some point I realised that three of the dancers in the original work were my friends," he said. "So it was like, 'Okay, can you talk to Billy?'"
Bonachela said Forsythe knew the reputation of the Sydney Dance Company and trusted its dancers to do justice to his beloved work. "I'm so proud of the way they have approached this, fearlessly," he said.
The performers include Canberra dancer Sam Young-Wright.
In counterpoint to , Bonachela has created a dance work of his own, titled Frame of Mind, a lyrical piece which features a vivid, urgent score composed by Bryce Dessner from indie rock group The National.
"I wanted it to be as powerful and strong but in a different way, so it was not easy," he said.
Frame of Mind is set in a high-ceiling rehearsal room with peeling, cracked walls and a tall window from which light pours.
In one sequence the light appears to blind a dancer before caressing and enveloping him as he gracefully moves through the room.
Bonachela's personal life was destabilised during the creation of the work – with his mother in hospital for 10 months and his partner living in New York for a year.
"My frame of mind, the way that I was feeling last year, was a very difficult one at times," he said. "[The piece is] not about my mother, it's not about my partner but those situations made me think about how life can change within a second and how you never know what's around the corner, and how everything can affect the way that you feel."
Frame of Mind is at the Canberra Theatre until Saturday, May 2. See canberratheatrecentre.com.au
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