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The opening night and world première of a new work by a respected artist always evokes a heightened sense of anticipation and excitement in audiences, and everyone in the packed Roslyn Packer Theatre in Sydney on Tuesday evening knew that choreographer and artistic director of the Sydney Dance Company, Rafael Bonachela, would not disappoint. In the program notes, he writes that in his new work, MOMENTA, the dancers ‘transcend physical limitations’, each of their movements resonating ‘through space, drawing the audience into a world of raw emotions’. That their limits have been extended is not under dispute – their control, elegance, energy and athleticism are there for all to marvel at. And marvel we did

And emotions? Yes, a gamut of emotions was evident in the lyrical, extraordinarily physical choreography, some dances speaking of intimacy, desire, tenderness, particularly in the glorious pas de deux featuring Naiara de Matos and Piran Scott. Other dances evoked rivalry, or was it uncertainty, fragility, or maybe even supplication? Others seemed to express an underlying languor or perhaps world-weariness, which were in stark contrast with the fast and furious, almost primal movements of other parts of the program. There were brief encounters, and moments of deep connection.

The dancers rippled, glided, leapt across the stage, the fluidity of their movements often punctuated with sharp angular gestures. Striking tableaux were fleetingly created, gone before they could be completely absorbed, a notion in keeping with the theme of the work: movement, motion, ephemerality.

Emotional responses to art are obviously subjective, and, at one point – quite unbidden – I was reminded of Dante’s Purgatorio. I can’t pinpoint what it was about that connection, but there it was. And while each person in the audience responded to what was happening on stage in their own individual way, it’s difficult to deny at least one collective response to what we were watching on stage – the sheer beauty of human movement.

The music, presented in seven movements, was composed by Nick Wales, who used an eclectic selection of instruments, including some very effective synth sections, solo viola, and strong percussion, to create a dynamic, moody, sometimes plaintive score. He included in his score ‘Distant Light’, a violin concerto by Pēteris Vasks, within two of the work’s seven movements.

Damien Cooper’s lighting design was powerful, a large wheel of lights that rose and fell, creating a variety of moods; and Elizabeth Gadsby’s sets and costumes were simple and sparse.

The evening came to its dramatic climax in a spectacle of light, glitter, percussion, and an otherworldly soprano, the final scene a single dancer almost dragging himself along, to position himself under the central lights on stage. It was perfect: silent until the lights went down, when the crowd, as one, stood to give the performers and creatives a standing ovation, which went on for quite a few minutes. A night of wonder. Just wow!

MOMENTA is showing at the Roslyn Packer Theatre until 8 June; then touring across the country.

The 17 dancers: Timmy Blankenship, Anika Boet, Dean Elliott, Riley Fitzgerald, Tayla Gartner, Liam Green, Luke Hayward, Morgan Hurrell, Ngaere Jenkins, Sophie Jones, Naiara de Matos, Connor McMahon, Ryan Pearson, Piran Scott, Emily Seymour, Coco Wood, and Chloe Young.

Production photography  by Pedro Greig


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