Amy Hollingsworth, Fiona Jopp, Cameron McMillan, Lisa Welham, Renaud Wiser, Paul Zivkovich
I am always suspicious when someone says of their own work: ‘how you read it really is up to you.’ Too often I have found this comment to be an excuse for a woolly concept, a badly thought through idea, or something that really has no point to it at all.
But in the case of The Land of Yes and the Land of No such suspicions prove to be unfounded.
This masterful work possesses a sufficiently strong underlying concept to ensure that any inferences we make are not just idle speculation based upon very little foundation. At the same time, the idea is broad enough to ensure that we are not simply being told what to think or feel at every turn.
This is the first piece that Rafael Bonachela has produced with the Bonachela Dance Company (which he founded in 2006) since he also became Artistic Director of Sydney Dance Company.
In The Land, Bonachela explores the world of signs. One Way, No Entry or Warning are no longer innocent instructions and instead become metaphors for the decisions we make, the roads we take, and the turning points in our lives.
The piece features solo dances, pas de deuxs and ensemble numbers, and contradiction is rife throughout it. In the first dance, a single woman twists her body at one speed and her arms at a faster one so that they wrap around her torso. The smoothness of her action, however, is at odds with the music she dances to, which suggests anguish and disquiet. In another dance, a couple appear to move almost like clockwork dolls with their mechanical actions, until it becomes apparent that the male is at times crouching, almost hobbling along.
Another sees all six dancers apparently moving along a road. But just as they all seem to travel across the stage from right to left, suddenly one member and then another turns or slips back so that in sum the six occupy the same area throughout the scene. This perhaps symbolises how we each stand here today as we did yesterday and will do tomorrow, with time passing through us and not vice versa.
The contradictions prevalent in human relationships are also presented. In one dance it is hard to tell if a couple are pulling each other up or dragging each other down, or whether they are revealing themselves to the other or simply blinding them to the truth as they cover their eyes. Another dance initially appears to be a battle between two men for one womans affections, but if this were so it would not explain why they handle her so roughly or the fact that the dancers seem to separate as quickly as they meet. It is really about how we are all inclined to change our minds, and seldom move through life in a straight line.
The pungent atmosphere is aided by the Spartan set which consists entirely of a background screen that changes hue depending on the mood, and a group of strip lights that come on and off in turn to frame the unfolding drama. The music, entitled Roadside Signs Variations is also highly effective. Working closely with Bonachela, Ezio Bosso has developed a soundtrack that takes the sounds of classical instruments and syntheses them so that the resulting composition is imbued with disquiet and a sense of modernity.
Personally, I felt that the first half stood strongly enough on its own and that the second half could have been used to advance matters further by departing more from what had gone before. Nevertheless, the mood certainly becomes more frenetic after the interval as the music introduces the human voice, either chanting raucously or crying Hallelujah.
And the final dance is so intense that it feels as if the very air that the two dancers cut through may be about to buckle under the weight of all their emotion.