Triptych: Where everything’s in three part harmony

Triptych is the most satisfying production staged by the Sydney Dance Company since Rafael Bonachela took the artistic director’s reins in 2009.

With one theme, one choreographer, one composer, one costume designer and one set and lighting designer it’s a work of unity. Furthermore, there’s the unity that always comes when dancers perform to live music.

As it is for Mark Morris, with his belief that live music is essential, so it seemed with Triptych. On stage throughout the evening of three works is the ACO2, the offshoot of the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

This kind of harmony is a step away from SDC’s usual programming in which a guest choreographer’s work is staged before or after a Bonachela piece. Sometimes the two pieces blend well together, other times not so much.

The main thread that pulls Triptych together is Benjamin Britten’s three compositions, Simple Symphony, Les Illuminations and Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge.

All three are very danceable and choreographers have been drawn to them before, among them Frederick Ashton, with his Illuminations [1950] and Twyla Tharp who set her How Near Heaven [1995] to Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge.

Simple Symphony and Les Illuminations aren’t new to SDC. Performed two years ago the two pieces drew big audiences during a short season at a small venue within the Sydney Opera House where they were performed on T-shape stage. The dancers were on a catwalk and the musicians sat at right angles to the dancers’ space.

For Triptych, the perspective is now completely different. On the stage of the Roslyn Packer Theatre, we see the dancers looking outwards, to the auditorium and the orchestra is placed behind them on a raised platform. On the whole, this enhances the performance and allows for a much better view of the choreographic patterns.

The new work, Variation 10, danced to Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, acts as a closing chapter to Triptych, bringing together elements of the joy, romanticism, darkness and light of the other two pieces.

Maticevski’s colour palate for Triptych flows from pale/nude, to dark/black then to the in-between combination of grey and silver.

His sheer costumes reveal the perfection of the dancers’ bodies, and are especially flattering in Les Illuminations. Three of the four dancers who performed this piece two years ago reprise their performances – Charmene Yap, Juliette Barton and Cass Mortimer Eipper – while Richard Cilli dances the part premiered by Thomas Bradley. Luckily Cilli doesn’t wear the sheer black mouth mask that Bradley wore in the original production.

As I wrote in my review back in 2o13, the dancers interpret the thoughts and dreams conjured up in the text of the prose poems from Les Illuminations, written by Arthur Rimbaud but there’s no need to have read Rimbaud’s work to enjoy the choreography and the extraordinary voice of Katie Noonan, also dressed in Maticevski black.

Simple Symphony begins with Bernhard Knauer lifting Janessa Dufty, her leg in arabesque, marking the joyful start to the opening movement, Boisterous Bouree. Bonachela knows his dancers’ strengths and he chose wisely, showcasing the athleticism and playfulness of Knauer and Dufty and the balletic romanticism of Fiona Jopp and Todd Sutherland.

The entire SDC ensemble dances to Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, whether in groups of 5 or 10 and finally altogether. The titles of the variations indicate how the choreography constantly changes from Adagio, to March, Romance, Aria Italiana and so on, until it reaches its conclusion – Fugue and Finale.

Maticevski adds frills, layers and flounces to the stripped down bodysuits of the first two works. The added fabric adds motion and, especially for the women, an element of freedom from the minimalist costumes they usually wear.

One final note, Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge brings something else that’s rare in many of Bonachela’s works – moments of complete stillness that enhance the choreography.

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Sydney Dance Company, Triptych, Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, David Mack and Jesse Scales, photo © Peter Grieg

Sydney Dance Company, Triptych, Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, David Mack and Jesse Scales, photo © Peter Grieg

Sydney Dance Company, Triptych, Les Illuminations, Juliette Barton and Richard Cilli, photo © Peter Grieg

Sydney Dance Company, Triptych, Les Illuminations, Juliette Barton and Richard Cilli, photo © Peter Grieg

Sydney Dance Company, Triptych, Simple Symphony, Janessa Dufty and Bernhard Knauer,  photo © Peter Grieg

Sydney Dance Company, Triptych, Simple Symphony, Janessa Dufty and Bernhard Knauer, photo © Peter Grieg

Sydney Dance Company, Triptych, Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Fiona Jopp, Todd Sutherland, Petros Treklis and Alana Sargent, photo © Peter Grieg

Sydney Dance Company, Triptych, Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Fiona Jopp, Todd Sutherland, Petros Treklis and Alana Sargent, photo © Peter Grieg