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A captivating new program of contemporary dance has just opened at the Sydney Dance Company. Sydney Dance Company

Frame of Mind: an ‘exhilarating evening of highly physical dance’

Sydney Dance Company is currently performing Frame of Mind, a visually challenging and exhilarating evening of highly physical dance, comprised of two contemporary pieces; the Australian premiere of William Forsythe’s masterpiece Quintett and the world premiere of Rafael Bonachela’s newly created Frame of Mind.

Forsythe’s innovations

Forsythe is one of the most important and innovative ballet choreographers of the last 50 years. It is his ability to expand the classical vocabulary, to stretch it into new and unexpected directions, that makes his work so influential.

He broke onto the scene in the early 1980s as an associate choreographer at the Stuttgart Ballet in Germany, then assumed the artistic directorship of the Frankfurt Ballet soon afterwards. It was in Frankfurt that Forsythe honed his craft.

Over the years he experimented heavily with ballet production: the ideas that have inspired his work come from philosophy, literature, film, and almost every aspect of contemporary culture. He works with movement that challenges traditional assumptions about what constitutes ballet, with music ranging from contemporary to classical, with set and costume design that equally covers the range from everyday clothing to more usual dance togs, multimedia, and voice.

Dance audiences who are in the know have come to expect the unexpected from Forsythe, to anticipate being challenged by his imagination.

Sydney Dance Company’s Quintett, featuring Chloe Leong. Photo by Peter Greig. Sydney Dance Company

Quintett follows the pattern; in spite of being more than 20 years old, it continues to test audiences.

Forsythe choreographed Quintett as a tribute to his wife Tracy-Kai Maier, who was dying of cancer, as “a final love letter to her”. Set to a haunting, and frequently disturbing, piece of music, Jesus’ Blood (never failed me yet) by Gavin Bryars, the dance is one of Forsythe’s most closely guarded works. Sydney Dance Company was fortunate to obtain permission to perform the dance and the ensemble handles the difficult movement elegantly and with aplomb.

Quintett is, as its name suggests, a piece for five dancers, three men and two women. The combination of an odd numbered ensemble and the void that exists at the centre of the stage for much of the piece suggests there might be a missing dancer – or perhaps the empty space represents potential and opportunity, the twin aspects of life and death.

Sydney Dance Company’s Quintett, featuring David Mack and Chloe Yeong. Photo by Peter Greig. Sydney Dance Company

Dancers move to a double track, the underlying waltz and the words “Jesus never failed me yet”. The repetition is mesmerising and annoying, which seems to be exactly the point: it suggests disillusionment with religion in the face of death but equally the uncertainty of human mortality.

Forsythe manages to convey hope in the face of tragedy, however. The lyrical movements rise and fall, shift across the space of the stage, as dancers group and re-group. The stunning physical interaction between pairs seems an ode to love and human relationships, the things that make mortality bearable.

The SDC dancers performed Quintett beautifully. Sam Young Wright was able to tantalise the audience with his subtle and varying attack; Jesse Scales was breathtakingly elegant and commanded the stage; and Chloe Leong stood out for the abandon with which she approached her role, in particular in the last moments of the dance.

A Bonachela premiere

The SDC dancers were just as impressive in Frame of Mind, a piece that challenged the physical strength and stamina of its performers to the utmost.

Sydney Dance Company s Frame of Mind, featuring Cass Mortimer Eipper. Photo by Peter Greig. Sydney Dance Company

Set to a gorgeous suite of music by Bryce Dressner and performed by the Kronos Quartet, the dance moves at an electric pace. Like Quintett, Frame of Mind deals with emotional and psychological states.

According to Bonachela, the piece is particularly concerned with the complexity of human emotion. In its energetic movement sequences that test the limits of the human body, Frame of Mind conveys a raw and uncontrolled emotion that at times is overwhelming.

In several parts of the piece the stage is filled to overflowing with dancers who are jumping, diving, and extending their legs in canon with such vigour the stage seems to be teaming with uncontainable life.

The closing solo, performed by Cass Mortimer Eipper, was not only the apotheosis of the dance in terms of sequence but also in terms of emotional content and choreographic effectiveness. Its gestures were powerful, meaningful and moving; the movement both lyrical and staccato. Eipper begins by lifting his hand across his mouth to signal shock, perhaps, or amazement. The solo that follows then alternates between dynamic movement and suspension.

Cass Mortimer Eipper suffused the movement with fluid elegance. He was able to strike a poignant balance between sharp physical attack and floating, to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. It was a lovely moment to end the evening on; after the poetic elegy of Quintett and the frenetic first 30 minutes of Frame of Mind, Bonachela and Eipper left us drawing in our breath and hoping for more.

Frame of Mind will be performed in Sydney until March 21, in Canberra from April 30 to May 2, and Melbourne May 6 to 16.Details here.

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