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Art, Culture //

Review: ab [intra] — from within

Sydney Dance Company returns to Walsh Bay to deliver a shimmering rendition of Raphael Bonachela’s 2018 creation, ab [intra].

Photo by Pedro Greig, courtesy of Sydney Dance Company.

Fresh off the back of a tour in France, Sydney Dance Company (SDC) has returned to Australian shores to reintroduce ab [intra] to Sydneysiders. The intricate contemporary piece was first choreographed by Artistic Director Raphael Bonachela in 2018; it now returns in 2022 with a new generation of SDC artists, breathing a distinctively new life and atmosphere into the work. 

Thursday night’s opening performance at Roslyn Packer Theatre saw not only a lengthy standing ovation from the entire audience, but a truly unique display of physicality and artistic connection between the dancers and their stage. 

Derived from the Latin translation of ‘from within’, Bonachela has described ab [intra] as a performance about the “energy transfer between the internal and the external… a representation of energy”. Indeed, each of the 18 dancers appeared to be internally driven in their steps, compelled forwards into fits of movement by an immaterial thread of energy. 

The work features several duos and trios segmented throughout the 75 minute performance, each of which possesses its own unique temperament and choreographic language. In these small numbers the intimacy of Bonachela’s contemporary movements and his eye for creating organic shapes is unforgettable. 

Gripping and demanding the considered attention of the audience from the beginning, the duos of ab [intra] become one body in motion. Melding themselves together, the most compelling aspect is their unwavering focus and attention on one another. Eye contact with their companion is rarely broken and their weight is constantly shifting and stirring between the two bodies. Remarkable structures formed by arms and legs which rise and fall through unique pathways and transitions from standing to sitting will leave you thinking ‘How on Earth did they do that?’ — The sheer ingenuity of creating such original sequences of movement is tremendously commendable. Though Bonachela is no stranger to idiosyncratic choreography, these sections display a remarkable choreographic identity only enhanced by the stamina and nuance employed by the company. 

The awe-striking moments of ab [intra] continue when the entire cast are united on stage en masse, generating an energy that radiates and ripples through the audience. The company conducted themselves with immaculate unison and displayed an incredible attention to detail — down to the tips of their fingers, the dancers moved as a unified entity. Often dancers in these sections would begin with individual steps and slowly converge into a common sequence of movement which crescendoed into some of the show’s most impressive moments. There is an unmistakable sense of humanity in flux or an impulsivity which drives the dancers into frenzies of movement; one can’t help but feel drawn into these frantic moments that are overwhelmingly evocative of everyday life. 

The performance’s score by Nick Wales featuring Klātbūtne by Pēteris Vasks is an intriguing auditory experience in itself, and when coupled with Bonachela’s choreography it makes for a stunning collaboration. Setting the pace for the dancers of ab [intra], the thrumming sounds of the music only enhance the seemingly unbreakable hive-mind of the company. It drives phrases of movement with an unnerving immediacy and conversely winds them down with assurance. 

Floor patterns, directions and soloists also comprise an integral component of ab [intra] wherein they set the bounds of the movement and create transitions from one section to the next. Whether a shocking jolt or a collapsing organic line, the motions of individual performers were equally as important as the moments of collectivity. Often a single performer would walk on or across the stage with a unique sense of purpose, leaving the audience curious as to their destination or desires. Occasionally one would turn to the front of the stage and stare directly into the audience as if to interrogate us all. Overwhelmingly, there was a sense of intimacy between performers, frequently in embrace, relying on one another for support, and between the performers and the audience. The atmosphere was thick with energy and bated breath at each turn. 

ab [intra] is Sydney Dance Company at its best — only five performances in Sydney remain, closing on June 11th.