“It's always nice to see Sydney Opera House filled with young people,” Rafael Bonachela laughs. “I mean, normally when I go to the there, it's really formal. Like, I look around and think, ‘Fuck, I'm wearing jeans’.”
The Spanish choreographer – who is both the artistic director of Sydney Dance Company and curator of the 2012 season of Sydney Opera House’s Spring Dance – is, quite simply, irrepressible. Neatly groomed and inconspicuously dressed in a hoodie and jeans, there's still something about Bonachela that will draw eyes when he enters a room.
He speaks quickly and expressively, barely finishing a sentence before jumping onto the next idea, his speech peppered with expletives, which tend to emphasise anything from a new idea that has sprung into his head or how amazing he thinks something or someone is. You'd have to be made of stone to not be affected by his verve and excitement.
Born in 1972 as the oldest of four brothers, he grew up in a small town outside Barcelona. With no dance school within 40 kilometres and no sister to help ease his path into the dance world, Bonachela had no idea that the word ‘choreography’ even existed. “I used to say, ‘Oh let's make a dance!’ I used to love to ‘make a dance’.”
There was no internet, of course, and despite growing up well loved and educated, there was no Swan Lake for the boy Bonachela. “The only other thing I've ever curated aside from Spring Dance is when I was eight years old and got the girls in my town to make little dance festivals. Then later, when Fame came out on TV, I was like, ‘Fuck! Literally, you can go to school, where you sing and dance: there are other people out there, like me!’”
Bonachela was enough of a natural at it that by 16, he was dancing every day in between attending high school. At 17, he moved to Barcelona and it didn't take him long to get a job in a contemporary dance company. Suddenly Bonachela was touring the world with the camera his father bought him and the chain his mother gave him with his blood type on it in case there was an accident.
“I didn't even know what contemporary dance was. I just knew I was in a weird group of people that smoked spliffs and kissed each other on the lips. I was like, ‘What is this?’ And I was improvising to this weird music and da-da-da-da, but…I wanted to dance.”
Perhaps it's this very background that today sees Rafael Bonachela approach not only Sydney Opera House's Spring Dance 2012 season, but dance as an art form and physical expression, in the way that he does. “I believe dance is very powerful. I believe good dance can transcend and really change you as a person and can really inspire you and, you know, you've got all these highly trained, intelligent and amazing bodies talking to you, in a language that's universal. Everyone can understand dance.
“Not everyone can understand English or Spanish or Chinese or Portuguese, but everyone can understand dance.” Especially handy since his Spring Dance program includes talent that arises from places that are far flung not only in a geographical sense, but also in terms of dance styles.
There is famed Flamenco dancer María Pagés dancing together with the extraordinary Flemish-Moroccan choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. There is Company Kafig's hip-hop boys from Brazil, not to mention the minimalist masters Tao Dance Theatre from China. And, of course, Bonachela was itching to engage the abundance of talent we have in Australia, including four brilliant female creators in Contemporary Women: the graphics and motions of Clouds Above Berlin and the IOU series of solos, which not only involves six choreographers dancing their own stuff, but also firing up the barbies and cooking up some sausages post show.
“For me, Spring Dance festival will always have an international and a national flavour of the best that I can find – or at least, as much as I can fit into two weeks of the festival that I have. IOU was definitely one of these. And I told them [the dancers and the festival] that I wanted them to do it, but I want it with the barbecue, at the Opera House,” says Bonachela laughingly, giving the table a slap.
It's all part of his aim for Spring Dance (and dance in general) to be as inclusive and accessible as possible.
"In some countries, people are very shy about dance. It's like, 'I'm not going to dance unless I've taken five E's and dropped some acid so then I'll be free of inhibitions!'" says Bonachela, throwing his hands up. “When I go to cultures where dance is a big part of it – you know, you go to Brazil or Cuba or somewhere – everyone's dancing. The music plays and people are dancing. It's such a communal thing. That's why I believe in dance.
“I've got nephews that can't talk, but when you put music on, they start moving to the beat. How can they do this? Who told them to do that? The proof is there, it's inside us."
Spring Dance opened last night and runs until September 2 at Sydney Opera House.