Richard Tognetti and Rafael Bonachela are arguing. Tognetti, the artistic director and lead violinist for the Australian Chamber Orchestra, is explaining the staging of their upcoming collaboration with Sydney Dance Company, Project Rameau. The orchestra will be seated at the back of the stage, he is saying.
“Will you? I thought you’d be standing,” queries Bonachela, the dance side of the equation and the choreographer of the show.
“It’s your call,” Tognetti says.
“Is it?” parries Bonachela.
“It’s a visual call. It’s completely your call,” says the musician, putting an end to it.
Ironically, the argument is indicative of the respect these two acclaimed artists have for one another. There is no sign of the fiery outbursts and the fight for creative control you might expect when two arts companies work together in such close confines.
It wasn’t so long ago that Bonachela had never seen the ACO perform. Although their reputation preceded them (the Barcelona-born choreographer and dancer had been advised on numerous occasions to catch an ACO performance whenever possible), it wasn’t until Bonachela actually moved to Sydney to take up the reins of the SDC in 2009 that he finally saw them live. When he did, he knew immediately that he wanted to collaborate with the vibrant ensemble, which is renowned for pushing boundaries.
Tognetti and Bonachela met over dinner at designer Ingrid Weir’s Sydney home and kept the conversation going over subsequent months until Tognetti one day dropped the ‘R’ word. “A few years back someone said to me that, having seen my choreography, they thought I should choreograph to Rameau, and when Richard said the name it suddenly came back to me. It was obviously meant to happen,” says Bonachela.
Born in 1683 in France, Rameau is not a household name, despite being broadly considered one of the greatest opera (and therefore ballet) composers of all time, a composer whose music influenced subsequent ballet composers. “Rameau put all the stones in place, he solidified a lot of the ideas,” says Tognetti. “We don’t know that much about Rameau but that his [historical] context was an incredibly volatile and fascinating one and he was the preeminent composer and musical theorist. And then we go into the 19th century and his music is all but forgotten.”
Tognetti gave Bonachela five or six CDs to whittle down for the Project Rameau play-list, but with every passing track Bonachela found himself writing, ‘like’, ‘like’ next to every one. “Raf has the hard job,” says Tognetti. “He had to respond [to the music] more than I had to respond to it as an interpreter; he had to respond to it from the ground up.”
Bonachela found almost all the music so evocative that, in the end, he asked Tognetti to go ahead and curate the mix, which includes Vivaldi and Bach.
This is the first time the SDC will be performing to an accompaniment from an orchestra, which will be even larger than its usual 23, given it will feature guest wind and percussionists. “I love live performance dance with live music. This is a dream come true for me,” Bonachela says.
The Spaniard is also credited with designing the costumes – largely black – in collaboration with Fiona Holley. “We had the conversation and decided that minimum works. It’s about the body, we’re not going in any way to reference the Baroque time. I’ve taken the ‘rock’ out of Baroque and it’s very sexy rock chic!”
Just as the costumes bear no resemblance to the music’s Baroque origins, so too will the choreography be 100 per cent contemporary. This was one of the most compelling reasons for Tognetti to collaborate with SDC, with both artistic directors agreeing they had no interest in a historical piece. “I’m totally open to what people want to do to the music, which is why we’re collaborating with Raf and the SDC,” Tognetti says.
“If this music is so powerful already that I have it on my iPod all the time then I can’t wait to see that it’s like with the formidable imagination and choreographic skills of a great choreographer like Raf.”
Project Rameau opens at the Sydney Theatre on October 29.