As strides in technology connect us ever more seamlessly, we somehow grow increasingly isolated. Arguments about how texting and Facebook contribute to loneliness are making their rounds, ironically enough, in social media (See here
But while that message has merit, the cursory way it’s delivered misses the mark. Sydney Dance Company
, on the other hand, illustrates this shortfall of high-tech humanity in a way that’s poignant and hopeful—and aptly performed before a backdrop of sparkling LED lights.
The company, Australia’s leader in contemporary dance, was presented by White Bird
in a one-night appearance last night. Artistic director Rafael Bonachela created the piece, 2 One Another
, in collaboration with poet Samuel Webster. Webster wrote poems while watching initial incarnations of the piece, and he then turned his work over to Bonachela as inspiration for enhancement. Dancers in the studio are “a microcosm of broader human interactions,” Bonachela writes in his choreographer’s note, and the piece indeed becomes an exposé of relationships.
The work begins with the dancers dressed in sheer gray unitards of varying cuts and lengths, each slightly different but similar enough to indicate they belong in a group. The dancers move with robotic precision, evoking a future of uniformity. They make good use of space, all 16 in the ensemble scattering across the stage to make staggered formations best appreciated from far away. They make good use of their bodies, as well, with big movements that are sharp and focused, their steel-like limbs slicing through the air.
The light show doesn’t take long to show its power, either, making a big entrance early on. Blinding flashes are timed with the crashing electronica of Nick Wales’ score, making an impact, but also causing concern that the entire show will be a lighting extravaganza. It’s not, but that’s another reason why 2 One Another is so smart: The lights’ captivating power is easy to recognize, but so is their power to distract from the dancing.
As for the dancing, the piece is compositionally masterful and consistently engaging. The ensemble performs a consummate combination of solos, duets, formations, call-and-response movements and simple but interesting placements. The love-hate duet between Janessa Dufty and Andrew Crawford is an early standout. Crawford, who looks to be about 6’5”, is more than a base for the quick and aggressive Dufty. He gets a chance to show off his grace, joining Dufty in controlled sways and taut developpés.
Relationships in the first movement of the piece are not particularly close. While dancers appear to be friends, or even to love each other, there are undercurrents of bickering, rivalry or aloofness. When the first movement ends with a crescendo of lights and deafening violin, the dancers are left walking among each other on the stage, each alone. But then they all walk downstage, toward the audience, as if reaching out. They sit as segments from Webster’s poetry are heard over the speakers. “This whole world,” reads the narrator, “is you, and me, and silence.”
The final movement shows a hopeful alternative to the preceding suppression. Crawford and Juliette Barton emerge from the wings, now draped in red—the color of passion—and dance tenderly, as if trying to figure out all the ways they can position their bodies while still touching. The piece ends with Crawford swooping an exhausted Barton into his arms, and moments later, Barton allowing Crawford to sit on her back.
2 One Another is commentary not only on personal relationships but with oneself, and dance is a fitting form for it. Instead of passive engagement—Facebook, Hulu, dazzling LED light shows—dance requires you to disconnect from technology, but also to disconnect with everything. You’re left to be with yourself, and to let yourself be with others. It's a message you need silence to hear.