If there’s one thing the coronavirus has shown, it’s that though live performance can be paused, you can’t stop creativity. In fact, quite the opposite.
It was during enforced isolation that Sydney Dance Company (SDC) artistic director and choreographer Rafael Bonachela conceived the idea for his new work.
Titled Cuatro (Spanish for “four”), it is a collaboration with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO) in which four solo dancers perform to music played by four solo musicians. Each Friday morning for four weeks a new work will be uploaded to the SDC and SSO’s Youtube channels and Facebook pages, and viewers can watch the free performances at their leisure.
“At the beginning of going into isolation there was a big thing about staying alive, but then also [about] how we would respond to this moment in time, something we’ve never experienced before, artistically,” Bonachela tells Broadsheet.
While respecting the resourceful ways people continued creating and streaming their work from home, Bonachela dreamt of the day people could come back together in person. “I thought this could be the first project we do on the day we’re allowed to come together. The whole idea came from ‘two by two’, because we can only be as close as two [metres].”
The SSO selected four soloists – principal oboe Diana Doherty, concertmaster Andrew Haveron, principal cello Umberto Clerici and associate principal flute Emma Sholl – and Bonachela asked them to send him pieces of less than four minutes that they enjoyed playing. He received around 50 submisisons in total, including works by Bach and Paganini.
Bonachela in turn selected four SDC dancers: Charmene Yap (who came out of retirement for the project), Davide Di Giovanni, Juliette Barton and Chloe Leong. He drew from a repertoire they were familiar with to create new works, which the dancers perform wearing costumes by Australian designer Bianca Spender.
“I did a little menu of different moments in our work together and sent it to the dancers with the video clips, and they started to relearn the movement. Then we pieced it together and adapted it, and it became something else entirely,” says Bonachela.
Creative director and filmmaker Pedro Grieg devised four simple but striking ideas that captured the mood of the past few months. “Charmene is in a beautiful see-through cube, and so is Diana, [both] encapsulated between these four walls,” says Bonachela. “Jules is between two screens, as is Umberto, [a metaphor] for the time we’re spending on screens. In a very ‘Sydney Dance’, abstract way, there’s a narrative about the way we’ve been living for the past eight weeks.”
In an ideal world SDC would be on a 10-week tour of Australia performing the double bill Bonachela/Forsythe right now, followed by international tours to London and South America. Instead, it’s making small steps to return both its professional dancers and potentially its students to the studio, in line with NSW health regulations. Meanwhile, the online classes continue and have proved so popular the company now runs 50 each week.
“The last few months have been very challenging for artists,” Bonachela says. “Theatres and concert halls are closed around the world, and for us the reason to make work is the audience. It’s that connection we miss, and that desire to connect with them is expressed through Cuatro. We put four virtuosic players together with four incredible dancers in a response to this moment in time. I hope people get a moment of bliss and joy, and don’t forget us. It’s a gift from these supremely talented people who cannot be on stage.”