I don’t know if there is such a thing as a distinctly Australian sensibility as it relates to dance but if there is, then Gabrielle Nankivell’s Wildebeest defines it. It is a masterful work on a lot of levels that begins with an act of imagination. The ballet opened with a poem that exhorted a wildebeest to rise. A male dancer on the floor, seemingly having just been born, tried to rise on shaky limbs. He struggled to stand with animal-like movements that evoked but did not attempt to mimic the titular animal. He was joined by a female companion and they began to dance together and the partnering was terrific. They were intensely physical, surging with wild energy, flying lifts and wild running. They were joined by the rest of the company and another level of meaning was added. There was a fascinating contrast between the whole company as herd and  free-ranging solos that explored individual identities. The company communicated through their energy, intention and movement. They vary substantially in height and body type but but were outstandingly unified in their attack of the choreography. Thoroughly a brilliant work. Nankivell is a visionary choreographer and I’d like to see more of her.

<i>Raw Models</i> featuring Charmene Yap and Andrew Crawford © Wendell Teodoro
Raw Models featuring Charmene Yap and Andrew Crawford
© Wendell Teodoro

Raw Models, a work by Jacopo Godani, came across as little more than a great deal of posturing. It was tiresomely slinky, with a “sexy-and-I-know-it” attitude costumed in black Jean-Paul Gaultier knockoff unisex lingerie. I was unable to reconcile the program notes with anything that was happening on stage. Try this: “In this piece my ideal is to propose the prototype of a micro-social structure functioning on communication, empathy and complicity.” Still, even though I didn’t appreciate the sensibility of the piece, I enjoyed watching what the dancers were doing. They are that compelling.

Sydney Dance Company’s Artistic Director, Rafael Bonachela, choreographed Frame of Mind which closed the show. This was a dance full of agitation, brimming with the intense push/pull of human relationships. It’s clearly a personal statement by the choreographer as it rehashed separation and longing between different partners. It could easily have descended into melodrama of the unwatchable sort if the dancers had tried to act out their feelings but they were just as restrained as you would want them to be. They were engaging, dancing in the moment, using each other’s’ kinetic energy. It wasn’t particularly my cup of tea but it was thoroughly engrossing because of these fine performers.

The Sydney Dance Company is not merely good, it's great. I know that it’s great because, even when I didn’t much enjoy the choreography, I still loved the dancers. They have great presence and they are full of awareness of themselves and one another. All of them move freely and with passion and seem to have well developed artistic sensibility. They give abundantly of themselves on stage without affectation or pretension. In every way that I can think of, this is the model of what a contemporary dance ensemble should be.

***11