We unfold – or do we?

It’s been a while since I reviewed something other than books and writing here, but tonight Mr Gums and I went to the Sydney Dance Company’s performance of We unfold, and so it’s time I thought for another performing arts review.

We Unfold, photo by Tim Richardson

We unfold (Image: Tim Richardson, via twitpic, http://twitpic.com/9up5t )

The choreographer – and artistic director of the company – Rafaela Bonachela describes his creation as follows:

I wanted to create a piece about our needs and desires to slowly unfold, revealing ourselves to those around us … we unfold is collective discovery, a self-examination of our emotional cores. [Program]

The work uses 14 (or so) dancers, and incorporates music by Ezio Bosso, video art by Daniel Askill and costume design by Jordan Askill.

The dancing was beautiful. It was fluid but also had a feet-planted-firmly-on-the-ground muscularity, resulting in a performance that had both strength and beauty. The music was powerful, but perhaps a little too insistent at times. There wasn’t a lot of dynamic range – it seemed either strong and loud, or stronger and louder. The video art, on the other hand, was quite mesmerising, making it sometimes hard to know where to look – at the dancers or the video behind them. The costuming was effectively minimal for a dance about “emotional cores”, with neutral colours and, for the women, light barely-there diaphanous shifts/tops/dresses (take your pick).

So, what was it all about? The video art suggested a range of things. At times I thought I was seeing a progression of the elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. At other times I thought I was seeing evolution, or at least its commencement in the Big Bang Theory. Then again, there was also a suggestion of Adam and Eve in two sequences, one featuring a man rising from a crouching position, and the other featuring a woman who was, at the end of the sequence, suspended in mid-air. Perhaps it was all of these? Perhaps it was about all these basic things that make us who we are.

In the program notes, Bonachela said that the work was developed collectively with the dancers by encouraging them to improvise during the creation process. He wanted them to explore their willingness to open up, or not, to each other and said that this resulted in different connections and relationships being developed. There was certainly that. I enjoyed, for example, seeing gender roles played with. Not only did men lift women, but men lifted men, women lifted women, and women lifted men. Dancers moved fluidly from solo to duet, trio and larger groupings – and they did it surely.  Overall, it was a very “ground-based” piece, earthy rather than light and airy. In fact some moves were reminiscent of something primeval (which made me think evolution) but neither these nor anything else seemed to turn into any sort of “narrative”, even in an abstract sense. In other words, the unfolding connections weren’t particularly obvious to us. By the end, we felt like we’d watched a sequence of beautiful, well-executed and very watchable moves, but something that was a bit repetitious or, as Mr Gums so succinctly put it, somewhat one-dimensional.

This is the first time we have seen the company since Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon (artistic director and associate director) left in 2007 after 30 years with the company. We unfold didn’t grab us quite the same way as previous performances (such as Boxes, Tivoli, GrandThe Director’s Cut) have – but the dancing was excellent, as we’ve come to expect, so we’ll be back.

4 thoughts on “We unfold – or do we?

  1. I’d love to see a modern ballet work like this – even if, as you say, it wasn’t quite as emotionally gripping as it could have been. I wonder if, with all the multimedia in it, they’re trying to appeal to a supposed “younger generation” and the stereotype that young people need multiple points of stimulation?

    I am glad you had a nice night, though – and Happy Mother’s Day!

    • Yes, I suspect it was a bit about appealing to a younger generation’s way of viewing. The dancing was wonderful. I meant to say in the review – I’m sure I started to write it but somehow I removed it – that the dancing seemed to draw from a number of traditions.

  2. It sounds like a great performance even if there wasn’t any sort of narrative. I haven’t been to a dance performance in ages. Might be time to look up what’s going on in my area.

    • It was great – the dancing was really powerful, and seemed to draw on a whole gamut of influences while still being modern ballet. We love this Dance Company – but it had been a couple of years since we’d seen any ballet.

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