As the curtain rises on William Forsythe’s Quintett, the haunting voice of a homeless man begins, softly at first, to fill the air. Quintett is danced to the optimistic chant, Jesus’ blood never failed me yet, in its familiar arrangement by Gavin Bryars. Five dancers, three men and two women, begin a series of solos, duets and trios in complex choreographic arrangements that make their bodies look elongated and twisted. What I am seeing reminds me of a Francis Bacon painting, not just because the bodies are contorted and the moves look impossible, but also because the background design is sparse. We were looking at a grey box-like space in which two seemingly unrelated and curious objects (an ancient piece of projection equipment and a large, round shaving-style mirror) have been carefully positioned.
But as the voice continues, and almost imperceptibly grows in power and volume, the choreography of Quintett begins to reveal itself. Quintett has both strength and fragility. Sam Young-Wright, tall with muscular arms and shoulders, is a powerful partner. He takes hold of Jesse Scales and her tiny, finely-sculpted frame folds in half in his arms. Young-Wright also has the well-proportioned body of a ballet dancer and as he makes a classical move, which Forsythe’s choreography sometimes demands, he projects strength and presence. Cass Mortimer Eipper and David Mack appear to stumble and sometimes fall to the ground. They seem vulnerable. At other times they have strength and fathomless energy as they extend their limbs into each demanding move. David Mack has a lovely duet with Chloe Leong that brings a little smile to my face as they wriggle on the ground. Leong dances with astonishing spirit throughout. Then, as the work comes to an end, the stage lighting darkens, the music takes hold and almost overpowers the dance, clouds and shadows are projected onto the backcloth, and Leong surges forward down the diagonal, is pulled back into the darkness, surges forward again until the curtain comes down.
Forsythe made Quintett for Ballett Frankfurt in 1993. It was a tribute to his terminally-ill wife and as such it cannot help but be filled with varied emotions. But even if we didn’t know this, the qualities that are inherent in it, and Forsythe’s unquestioning faith in the power of dance, would still make Quintett a riveting work. Sydney Dance Company dancers have made sure that every emotion contained in the work is visible as they celebrate life and dance in its many facets. I can’t wait to see it again.
Rafael Bonachela’s new work, Frame of Mind, completed the program. Bonachela never ceases to surprise with his unerring eye for a strong collaboration. Frame of Mind, danced to music by Bryce Dessner and lit by Ben Cisterne, took place within an evocative set designed by Ralph Myers – the corner of a room dominated by a tall window frame. The work opened in silence, giving us an opportunity to soak up this atmosphere. It seemed both old and new and transported me back to paintings by Darryl Lindsay from the 1940s where dancers pose, singly or in groups, in rooms where windows dominate. And yet it was also thoroughly of today. Dancers with sleek bodies clad in close-fitting, sometimes cheekily cut, black costumes of assorted design populated the room. Sometimes they leant against the window frame or posed in various spots on the edge of the performing space. But mostly they filled the space with fast-paced dancing.
I loved how this work was structured choreographically. More and more Bonachela makes use of the full company in segments where unison dancing dominates. Against this he gives us powerful solos – solos by David Mack and Cass Mortimer Eipper were especially strong – or fluidly moving quartets, trios and duets. Richard Cilli and Jesse Scales had an especially smooth duet filled with swirling, circular movements. The work was also nicely paced, with Cisterne’s lighting providing moments of half-light as visual contrast.
Sydney Dance Company is a versatile and beautifully-schooled group of performers. Its opening program for 2015 was emotionally driven and passionately and powerfully danced. An outstanding evening of dance.