I often have a feeling tingling deep in my heart, difficult to express it in words. I hope to convey this feeling through dance, through the myth and the moon . . . The pursuit of having the understanding of the full moon at all times.
Cheng Tsung-lung, Full Moon
I had the pleasure of attending a preview of the Sydney Dance Company’s latest work, ‘Orb,’ last week at the Victorian Art’s Centre.
Contemporary dance is an amazing spectacle—different to well known classical ballet, like Swan Lake, because it reveals the supreme athletic skill of the dancer’s in ways that classical performances do not.
And while classical performances seek to hide a dancer’s athletic virtuosity beneath a veneer of affected effortlessness, contemporary performances, like last week’s Orb, rejoice in transmitting the limb contorting and body movement mastery each dancer wrings from themselves to a grateful audience.
The music, the choreography, lighting and set design—well all superb, but my overriding thought was: “My god! The training and preparation the dancers must endure to be able to move like this must be immense!”
And let me tell you: the ways this dance company can move their bodies in synchronicity to complicated musical arrangement is mesmerising.
Orb is comprised of two separate pieces performed either side of an intermission. The first, Full Moon, by Taiwanese choreographer, Cheng Tsung Lung; and the second, Ocho, by the SDC’s Artistic Director, Rafael Bonachela.
Full Moon is an enthralling examination of details—an almost microscopic insight into what the human form is capable. Other-wordly body shape positioning and graceful transitional movement, all perfectly timed and coordinated, evolved in synchronicity to a pumping, intelligent musical composition. The dancers where able to speed up or dramtically slow down their posturing at will, never losing their impeccable sense of timing. “I guess that’s why they’re pros,” I thought.
I did find it hard to relate to, and perhaps this is just my inexperience with contemporary dance coming to the fore because lets face it, it’s a cerebral experience watching this kind of thing.
As a choreographer, I am often drawn to the physical contact between dancers, but for Ocho, I set myself the task of holding back on that physical contact and allowing the individual dancers to explore their physical personality among the group, leading up to an eventual connection.
Rafael Bonachela, Ocho
Ocho reminded me of a futuristic, perhaps dystopian, West Side Story, but interpreted by super-talented dancers rather than musical actors.
Eight dancers trapped in the claustrophobic confines of a concrete-looking box seem edgy, like tigers in a bad zoo enclosure. The set alone weighs 2.7 tonnes, has 28 wheels and 350 screws, and took 1,400 hours to build – the constricted space creating a sense of intense scrutiny.
One by one they slide open a glass door and emerge onto the open confines of the stage proper, and perform a unique a solo routine; almost like an eight-way dance-off. There seems to be a competitive bent to how each regards the others as they have their turn.
But one performer remains reluctant to compete. She remains inside the claustrophobic enclosure until the other seven have had their moment. She seems to be a unifying force, urging all to finally combine and dance together as a troupe.
In fact a unifying climax, from an individual to a collective focus, is how both Full Moon and Ocho conclude. I found this to be a profound statement and was amazed that dance could conjure such intellectual reflection.
It’s the thing about contemporary dance that amazes me most— a capacity to provoke deep thought through wordless movement. Like Full Moon it challenges what you think you know about dance, and the thought and determinations it provokes are entirely your own, and that’s the best part.