Despite receiving countless accolades for his work, and decades in the industry, Sydney Dance Company’s artistic director Rafael Bonachela still gets butterflies in his stomach before opening night.
“I do still get butterflies!” he says. Speaking to ICON from the company’s studios in Walsh Bay, the Spanish choreographer is days away from debuting a brand new piece dubbed Summer, set against the incredible score “Cicadidae” by Australian composer Kate Moore and part of a trio of performance called Resound, which will include Bonachela’s acclaimed work Ocho and a new work from the brilliant, award-winning Australian choreographer Stephanie Lake.
“More than anything, I’m excited but this time, there’s even more build up of this excitement because of the couple of years have been all about cancelling and postponing and producing instead of being able to have an audience. So there’s even more excitement because it’s like ‘it’s happening! People are coming! The show is on!'”
But other than signalling that the show is ready to go on, what makes this particular performance additionally thrilling is that it the costumes worn by the dancers performing Summer have been created by the Australian fashion duo Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett of Romance Was Born.
“When I was thinking about this work, and thinking about the music “Cicadidae” by Kate Moore…Being a longtime admirer of Romance Was Born – there vibrancy, and energy in their design – once the concept of Summer started to develop I couldn’t imagine anyone better suited to take that concept and take that idea and run with it.
“I didn’t really ask them to take one direction, or another,” Bonachela adds. “Like I do with my dancers, they had the music to be inspired by, they had this idea of summer and the sound of Australia in summer and I wanted them to take their own journey into what was going to be the final design. So I offered them to come to the rehearsals and see how the work was evolving.”
But fashion on the runway – or even on the street – is one thing. Designing for the extremities and physicality of dance – that was an entirely new experience admits RWB’s Luke Sales: “[The biggest difference was] practicality! Absolutely! The process has been very different to making ready to wear, it’s definitely more limiting because of of the need to consider practicality. But regardless, this has been exciting none the less.”
Speaking to ICON from Paris, Sales and Plunkett explain that the details of Summer, and the energy of the dance itself, was almost self-fulfilling in its inspiration for what kind of costume would fit the performance. “We had some seriously fab ideas and big plans…lots of ideas. But as soon as saw the first rehearsal, we realised that how none of them would actually work for dancers,” explains Plunkett.
“There is so much physical contact and Summer is a very high octane piece, so straight away we decided on the spot what we had to do to make this work. Once we saw it we knew exactly what we had to do, the designs flowed from there.”
According to Bonachela, it was the collaboration between Romance Was Born and artist Ken Done shown earlier this year during Afterpay Australian Fashion Week that cemented the partnership. Skewering both modern and nostalgic Australiana, the show says Bonachela, was a perfect fit for the performance of Summer.
A celebration of its namesake season, Summer is a dance of complexity: the electricity of the warmer months that brings us back to life while at the same time, it induces a hazy sensuality. It is light, quickened, yet like the drumming of a cicada carries a sonorous depth. It was while attending a concert on a Tuesday night where he heard the Australian String Orchestra play “Cicadidae” that Bonachela first got the idea to begin crafting a piece that could express this return to closeness and energy of summer. “I was like ‘oh my god, one day I will create a dance to this piece of music!’ But it didn’t happens straight away, it was sort of left there on the backburner.”
The right moment came, of all places, while on his scooter on his way to work. “It’s always about the moment in time, small miracles happening and the moment in time with things aligning. So there’s always a moment where i have a couple of thoughts…and then I’m going with this one.”
But it’s also a celebration of touch, and closeness says Bonachela. After a year of creating work that prevented dancers from touching – they could be in the same room, just not be close to one another – Summer is the antithesis to this. Energetic, light, yet with an intimacy that we’ve been lacking since Covid began.
This same sense of fun and verdant energy is expressed in the costumes created by Romance Was Born.
“We have these beautiful unitard suits with these incredible prints that the dancers will look absolutely incredible in,” says Bonachela.
Resound will open at the Sydney Dance Company on Saturday, October 29.