Life on the moon and down in the underground

The double ‘o’ in the titles of Full Moon and Ocho is the only element that unites Sydney Dance Company’s two new works.

The first is all fluidity of movement, meditation, spinning and vivid colour. The second is all darkness, edginess, and confrontation.

Full Moon is an ode to the moon not only when it’s full, but, I think, in all its phases of waxing and waning.

The choreographer, Cheng Tsung-lung, was a dancer with Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan before he became artistic director of the second company, Cloud Gate 2.

Naturally his choreography reflects the style of Cloud Gate’s founder, Lin Hwai-Min, whose dancers practise tai chi, martial arts, meditation and calligraphy in the serenity of the company’s theatre and studios, overlooking the Tamsui River in Taipei.

Mr Lin, as he is known, choreographed Moon Water in 1998, a meditative piece based on tai chi and the way in which this martial art connects the mind and body, to reach a state where, it’s said “energy flows as water, while the spirit shines as the moon”.

In Full Moon, energy is evident in the whirling dervish turns, the shaking of long hair that seems to take on a life of its own, the upheld hands and the fast rolling across the floor.

The spirit is evident in the meditative poses in which some dancers only watch while others move slowly then pose in the manner of a Grecian frieze or temple statue.

When seven of the eight dancers crisscross the stage, each moving with a different dynamic, the focus is on Jesse Scales who, in her white pleated dress, represents the still point of the turning world until she twitches her head, with all the sharpness of an inquisitive bird.

The electronic music, resonant with the sound of gongs and bells, was composed by Lim Giong while the costumes are designed by Fan Huai-chih.

Whether the dancers are wearing a red ruffled dress or long skirts in gold, silver, blue and grey, each costume is as free flowing as the dancers’ limbs, each flatters the dancers’ bodies and all enhance the choreography.

The lighting by Damien Cooper was inspired by the artists James Turrell and Olafar Eliasson, both known for their lighting installations. A gigantic sun was the centerpiece of Eliasson’s, The Weather Project, installed in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in London.

Turrell’s exhibition of his lit, rectangular ‘Shallow Spaces” was recently shown at the National Gallery of Australia. That explains the way the mysterious rectangular framed and lit space in Full Moon changes colours both inside and around the frame.

Full Moon, Sydney Dance Company, photo @ Pedro Greig

Full Moon, Sydney Dance Company, photo @ Pedro Greig

Rafael Bonachela, artistic director of SDC and the choreographer of Ocho, created the work to showcase the individual virtuosity and unique personality of eight SDC dancers. (Ocho is ‘eight’ in Spanish).

But that individuality is only one aspect of the piece.

Bonachela’s program notes mention the dancers’ vulnerability as they emerge from a glass construction that might be a waiting room in an underground train station where they are watched, and then trapped, in a larger concrete space where their efforts to escape always fail.Ocho, Sydney Dance Company ensemble, photo © Pedro Greig

Out in the concrete world the dancers are fearful, antagonistic, confrontational, and exposed in their street clothes – costumes inspired by underground dance-off and krumping, according to the designer, David Fleischer.

That means they’re wearing very little, either on the top of their body or below.

Nelson Earl wears white undies and a zipped hoody that opens to display tattoos on his bare chest while the other men wear daggy shorts and trackies.
Nelson Earl, Ocho, Sydney Dance Company, photo © Pedro Greig
Their costumes might refer to their vulnerability, but that vulnerability is even more obvious in the costumes of the women.

Charmene Yap, for example, wearing only a bra and brief shorts, looks objectified as the other dancers stand as one, staring at her upstage. Charmene Yap, Ocho, Sydney Dance Company, photo © Pedro Greig

In the manner of postmodern dance, the audience is left with a sense that this tribe was trapped in a concrete jungle before the house lights went down and would still be there when the theatre closed its doors.

The skills and expression of the individual dancers and the strength of the ensemble are wrapped up in such a dark environment that it’s not always easy to empathise with their tension and entrapment and nor does the strobe lighting and the off and on stage lighting add to the narrative.

Despite the explanations in the program notes, written by all the creatives, the underlying intent of Ocho wasn’t clear to me.

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Latisha Sparks, Bernard Knauer, Janessa Dufty, Full Moon, Sydney Dance Company, photo © Petro Greig

Ocho, Sydney Dance Company, photo © Pedro Greig

Holly Doyle, Full Moon, Sydney Dance Company, photo © Pedro Greig

Todd Sutherland, Full Moon, Sydney Dance Company, photo © Pedro Greig

Holly Doyle and Janessa Dufty, Full Moon, Sydney Dance Company, photo © Pedro Greig

Jesse Scales, Full Moon, Sydney Dance Company, photo © Pedro Greig