It was pre-destined Rafael Bonachela and the Sydney-born, Paris-based designer Clemens Habicht would team up. Bonachela, the Sydney Dance Company (SDC) artistic director and choreographer, first came across Habicht’s work when he saw the film clip for Flume’s Some Minds at the Sydney Opera House during the Vivid festival.
“I’m always looking for designers and thought it was amazing, so beautiful and poetic and it had a beautiful dance sequence [by Australian Ballet dancer Callum Linnane]. So I did some research and found out Clemens was an Australian based in Paris,” says Bonachela. “I left it in a corner of my mind, then this year we collaborated with David Jones, and when I went to one of the meetings the filmmaker was Clemens. And I thought, ‘Oh my God, he’s the guy!’”
Although Habicht is known locally as the director of video clips for Tame Impala, the Presets and Bloc Party, among others, the designer and illustrator works across diverse visual fields. Habicht is a director of Galerie Allen in Paris; has exhibited at the Biennale of Sydney and the Secession Museum in Vienna, and created artwork for Artbank’s Sturgeon magazine, the Meredith Music Festival in Victoria and Sydney Theatre Company.
But nothing was said, at least not yet.
The DJs campaign reminded Habicht why he enjoys working with dancers. “Dancers are really lovely to watch and easy to shoot. There’s rarely time to rehearse anything, it’s improvised, but they have an ability to time things,” he says. Working with SDC was no different.
“I didn’t say anything to Clemens at first, I thought let’s see how we get on,” says Bonachela. “But we had so many connections: I know the [Presets’] Julian Hamilton and Julian’s brother, Antony, is making Crazy Times for us [SDC] next year. Clem and I worked really, really well on the DJs campaign so after that I called him and said I’d like to talk.”
The pair met twice in Paris, bouncing ideas back and forth. The inspiration for Bonachela’s new work came from a concerto for cello and strings by Grammy- nominated British/Bulgarian contemporary classical composer Dobrinka Tabakova.
“The music has a sense of freedom and flight and drive and optimism. I’d play it when I walked to work and felt happy and driven. But it wasn’t enough that it was nice and I liked it, I had to find a reason for us to create a dance,” Bonachela says.
The idea for the choreography took shape when Bonachela hit upon the title: Anima. Latin for breath, vital force, soul and spirit. Its anagram is Mania, the goddess of the spirit world and the dead.
Habicht flew to Sydney and spent two weeks sitting in on the choreographic process, corralling his ideas, which led him into territory he’d never worked in before.
“I was looking at ways to involve the tools of filmmaking to bring something more to the dance, without being in competition with the dance. When you’re working in a visual field it’s a very present thing – visuals compete with visuals. So I suggested we somehow generate the visual accompaniment out of the dance, capture the features of the choreography and generate something unique,” he says.
The result uses motion-capture software to extract and project 3D images of the shapes, motions and movements made by the dancers. This suspends the world in a vibrant, lollipop colour scheme. Crucial to the visuals’ success is the lighting design, created by long-time SDC collaborator Benjamin Cisterne.
“It’s been a learning curve for all of us,” says Habicht, pointing out he is accustomed to making three-minute music videos and 30-second TV commercials. Anima is 30 minutes long. “It’s been thrilling but terrifying, and I think that’s a good sign.”
“I’m often taking leaps of faith, and I’m always excited by the things I haven’t done,” he says. “I was a bit out of my comfort zone here, but I felt comfortable the people around me would want to make the most striking, wonderful work we could together.”
Untamed, a double bill featuring Rafael Bonachela’s Anima and Gabrielle Nankivell’s Wildebeest, plays at the Roslyn Packer Theatre until October 29.