Sydney Dance Company’s (SDC) latest work Impermanence isn’t actually that new – it was set to premiere in March last year, but was cancelled just days before the first performance as Covid-19 struck down large gatherings around the world.
“It was ironic that a work called Impermanence was lost to the pandemic,” Rafael Bonachela, the company’s artistic director, tells Broadsheet. “It made me believe even more [in] the performance and the relevance of the work.”
Like many businesses, SDC was forced to react. Within six days it launched a virtual studio with performers taking on new roles in the company, teaching classes via Zoom and picking up marketing and data tasks.
Now, almost a year later, Impermanence will finally premiere, launching the SDC’s 2021 program. After its Sydney run it will tour nationally.
The work was created in collaboration with Bryce Dessner – a composer and the guitarist of US rock band the National – who was co-commissioned by SDC and the Australian String Quartet (ASQ) to create a score inspired by the fragility of existence.
“Notre Dame had just burnt down a couple of months earlier and we spoke about how similar [it is to the] nature of life – how that even the things that we think will be forever, that we think are going to be eternal, are often not,” Bonachela says.
“It made us think, nothing is permanent, things are only existing for a moment. We decided that we were going to explore that concept in music and choreography.”
Dessner has won Grammy awards both with his band and as a classical composer. He was nominated for a Grammy and a Golden Globe for his score for the Leonardo DiCaprio film The Revenant, and was also behind the music for Netflix’s The Two Popes.
The score, which will be performed live on stage each night by the ASQ, is a demonstration of intense physicality.
“We workshopped feelings of panic and alarm, the rush of adrenaline and the juxtaposition between force and inertia,” Bonachela says. “For me, in this work specifically, there is a constant pulse to it. A heartbeat. Sometimes it is massive and ambient and sometimes it is very gentle.”
Bonachela says Dessner’s music is poignant, raw and mournful. Originally, it was driven by the emotion of witnessing Australia’s devastating bushfires.
“The images of Australia on fire beamed across the world. Everyone was seeing what was happening,” Bonachela says. “It wasn’t planned but because he [Dessner] was writing at that point, and it was so connected to our concept that nothing is permanent, it really gave an emotional drive to the work.”
Originally a short piece programmed as part of a triple bill, Bonachela says the disruption caused by Covid-19 was an opportunity to extend the work from a 40-minute piece into a full-length work, and to delve deeper into that concept of uncertainty.
“The impact that Covid-19 has had has been very profound. We have lost access to a lot that we thought was permanent, like travel; we have lost contact with friends, the pleasure of human touch, the connection, the proximity,” he says. “Impermanence is as much about the idea that nothing is permanent and how important it is to live in the moment, share the moment and just be present and live to the full.”
Almost a year on, the choreographer is excited to finally share the finished work with a live audience.
“I just cannot wait for that moment when the lights go down and you hear the audience breathe and that magical exchange that happens in the performance,” he says.
“That is why we do it, we want to share it with our audience.”
Impermanence will be performed until February 27 at the Roslyn Packer Theatre.