Freelance writer – creative – media-maker
“It wasn’t easy; it took hours and hours and hours, and for those two months, I didn’t have a life. But now I look back at it and I think, ‘How the f*** did I do that?’”
Meet Sydney Dance Company’s Artistic Director, Rafael Bonachela. Charming, witty and refreshingly honest, Raphael took time out during his latest visit to Melbourne to chat with me about his collaborative dance creation, We Unfold. He’ll be returning with the company in November to present a season of the work.
“We Unfold started in October 2008, when I heard that I was appointed as Artistic Director of Sydney Dance Company,” he informs me. “Although I had had an interview in August for the job, I did not actually tell anyone that I’d done this interview until the day that I heard that I had got the job. That weekend I was spending time with Ezio Bosso, the composer and I said to him, “Look, I have been appointed Artistic Director of Sydney Dance Company which is an amazing opportunity and great news and I’m so happy and it’s everything I ever wanted!” Of course everyone was like “What?”
And “Oh yes, I have to move to Sydney in two weeks and I have to make a new work and I have no music.” Ezio said to me at that point that he had just finished composing his first ever symphony, Oceans I, for violin. So the first trigger for the work was Ezio telling me he had finished creating his first ever symphony.”
A contemporary dance inspired by a symphony? I ask him what it was like to work with this rare combination of music and dance.
“Of course, a symphony, for me, sounded really haunting. A symphony just sounds huge — you know, there are a lot of musicians and it’s very big and everything. But then again, I said “Let’s just listen to it.” That was a simulation, because it had not been recorded; Sydney Dance Company actually commissioned the recording of the piece. But Ezio makes music that I feel very, very connected to, so I already knew that I adored his classical contemporary music. So I thought okay, if I can get the money, we can record it and that’s going to be it, we can make We Unfold.”
“I had six dancers in my company in London, so I would never have thought of choreographing to a symphony for an hour with six dancers. But with 17 dancers [in SDC], it felt like, in a way, maybe I could match that powerful piece of music; because like the sea, the oceans can be aggressive, but they can be calm also, but they can be scary and they can be soothing, there can be so many things behind that music.”
As a music-lover, I can’t help prodding Rafael further about his working relationship with Ezio, and his interest in composing to classical music. Thankfully, the topic seems to uplift him:
“Now I’ve found a composer”, he states. “The last three works I have made have been with Ezio’s music. In the case of We Unfold, the music already existed and we found conceptual links that would help me to develop the dance. I had evenings and loads of moments sitting with Ezio, in his studio, talking about the music. We would do that a lot, and then we would separate, I would listen to the music by myself and then we would meet again and talk more, with me taking lots of notes about the things that we would say.”
“I will generally have listened to the music a lot by the time I start choreographing, but I never start choreographing to the music. I’m not a choreographer that plays the music and goes, “Oh god, that’s 5,6,7,8 and it goes up, so everyone run up in 5,6,7,8 — let’s try to make something nice to this nice piece of music!” Because the music…it’s there. It’s done, it’s been made and you’re so far behind as a choreographer, because you’re starting from zero; you’ve done nothing. So I have to first create the vocabulary that’s going to inhabit that work.”
“So when I create the vocabulary I do it first without the music. The music is here [points to his head]. I know that it starts with a solo violin and I know that it goes into a crazy section or whatever; there are all these references in my head. I start playing with movement ideas. I’ll give the dancers some tasks to develop some movements and then bit by bit, after a while of really looking for vocabulary that’s going to be relevant to the work, I might be randomly walking down the street listening to the music and then I go “‘Ha!’ that’s that bit”. Suddenly I’ll know that it’s the first solo violin that is going to be Juliette, but then Amy will join in and so on. So it’s almost like… it’s like I need to have something before I meet the music.”
Rafael pauses for a moment. “You know, when I was younger, I used to just put some noise on in the background that sounded like a washing machine and that was apparently very modern.” He chuckles. “I’m just very happy that now I have a better relationship with music.”
Apart from Ezio’s music, We Unfold also features the work of video artist Daniel Askill. Clearly, the art of collaboration is of great interest to Rafael.
He nods. “Dance has always been one of the most collaborative art forms. I mean, you can always do the steps in the studio, but to make it into theatre you have lighting and then there’s the musical part of it which can work, as in my case, very collaboratively. I mean, I know that I can make pieces of choreography and make it look nice, and have beginning and an end, and make it more this or the other. But I think this way it’s more interesting for me.”
“You know, there are so many people walking the streets of Australia who don’t know that they like dance yet. They actually don’t know it. And they don’t know it because they’ve never been to one. It’s not like they are going “I hate it!” It’s just they don’t know it, so you have to find ways to draw them to dance. I think somewhere in the back of my mind I believe that when you have something that is not just dance, but might also have a film as part of it, a sculpture, a sound artist, or a fashion designer, someone from outside, it might also help draw in new audiences for dance.”
Speaking to Rafael, it is easy to see the passion he has for choreography. But what did he make of the challenges of becoming the Artistic Director of Australia’s largest contemporary dance company?
“The biggest challenge was the fact that this company has a huge history and a huge legacy, but was one that I inherited not in the best situation.”
“A tragedy had happened. The director appointed just before me [Tanja Liedtke] had died, and the director before that [Graeme Murphy] had left in not the best way either. So it was a company that had all this potential, but…it was a weird sort of place. And as a new director, I also had to find my new identity within the company, and one of the big things was the dancers. They are, of course, the humans that represent the work, and it was a challenge because it was, at that time, a company of dancers that was not right for me. But now, one and a half years later, I’ve gotten through them, so it wasn’t too bad in a way. I have now an entirely new dance company that is entirely right for me and right for what we do now.”
On a parting note, I ask Rafael about his hopes for the future of SDC.
“My vision for the company has always been that they would not just do my work. I’m a very passionate choreographer, that’s the reason I’m here, but I’m also a choreographer that likes the work of other choreographers. I enjoy being inspired and I feel that we are a company that has the opportunity, because of its size, to be able to provide that to audiences.”
“I like the idea that audiences might see one of my works that is very danced-based and then have someone like Adam Linder, who I commissioned for our last season in Sydney, make a work for them. He uses what he calls the “theatre of movement”, making very in-your-face, more theatrical, less formal, experimental work, which I think is exciting.”
“You know, within the practice of contemporary dance the range of styles is so wide, and I want to be able to present that to audiences to the highest level of quality and ambition. That’s not going to happen in a year, but I think we are getting quite close to it.”
Sydney Dance Company presents We Unfold…
July 23rd – 24th 2010
Civic Theatre, Newcastle
November 9th – 13th 2010
The Arts Centre, Playhouse
November 17th – 27th 2010
Tickets available now. For more information visit: www.sydneydancecompany.com
Published in Trespass Magazine