28 February 2023

Electrifying new dance from Sydney Dance Company in Ascent

| Emma Batchelor
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dancers in black and yello costumes on stage

Ascent by Sydney Dance Company. Photo: Pedro Greig.

The Canberra Theatre Centre is hosting the world premiere of Ascent, a new work from the Sydney Dance Company.

Co-commissioned by the Canberra Theatre Centre, this virtuosic triple-bill features pieces choreographed by Antony Hamilton, Marina Mascarell and Rafael Bonachela.

Australian choreographer Antony Hamilton is the artistic director and co-CEO of Melbourne-based contemporary dance company Chunky Move. Forever & Ever, Hamilton’s critically acclaimed work that Sydney Dance Company first performed in 2018 is being remounted as part of this year’s program.

Dancer Emily Seymour was a performer in that premiere season. This year, she will appear in Forever & Ever for a second time but in a new role, an opportunity she describes as “challenging but also exciting”.

dancers in black and yello costumes on stage

Forever & Ever by Antony Hamilton. Photo: Pedro Greig.

“It’s been really fun delving back into Forever & Ever. I think I’m a lot more mature as a performer now and can see it from another perspective. I have also been applying everything I learnt from Antony back in 2018. Being able to do that again now, as a new dancer and as a new person, has been quite a surreal experience.”

Forever & Ever brings together dance, fashion and production design elements to explore ideas of order, chaos, popular culture and human behaviour. Perhaps most important to the work is its soundscore, a pulsating techno undercurrent created by Hamilton’s brother Julian, who is one half of the Australian electronic music duo The Presets.

“It is a very fast work and requires a lot of concentration the whole time,” Emily Seymour explains of her experience dancing in Forever & Ever.

“At the end, I’m physically and mentally drained and I am always completely soaked with sweat. Once it starts, it doesn’t stop.”

dancers in black and yello costumes on stage

Forever & Ever brings together dance, fashion and production design elements to explore ideas of order, chaos, popular culture and human behaviour. Photo: Pedro Greig.

Alongside Forever & Ever is a new work from Spanish choreographer Marina Mascarell. Titled The Shell, A Ghost, The Host & The Lyrebird, this is the first work from Mascarell to be performed in Canberra. Seven dancers, including Seymour, are currently in rehearsal, co-creating the work with Mascarell.

“It has been so beautiful to work with Marina,” Seymour told Region.

“We haven’t had an international choreographer with Sydney Dance Company for six years. I will never forget her knowledge, her understanding and her guidance throughout this experience. I feel very grateful to be a part of her work.”

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As well as offering the dancers a rewarding choreographic experience, Mascarell is working with artist Lauren Brincat to develop a set that is unlike any the company has commissioned before. Suspended from the ceiling is a 5-metre tall, 15kg sail made from 1000 pleats of cloth. These pleats fall from the centre of their suspension point all the way down to the floor. If held by the edges and pulled, the pleats unfurl like the wings of a bird. Other pieces of cloth are also suspended and used throughout the work; together with the dancers, they are equal performance instruments.

Seymour summarises how these elements come together: “The music, the costumes, the set, and the dancers, we are part of one big collaboration. I think that is what makes this piece so special. We are coming together with the set to dance as one.”

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Rounding out Ascent is I Am-ness, a short new work from the artistic director of Sydney Dance Company, Rafael Bonachela.

Canberra audiences will be familiar with Bonachela’s signature style of movement from previous programs. His choreographic work is both propulsive and emotive, highlighting the athleticism of his dancers.

In bringing together these three distinct works within Ascent, Sydney Dance Company and the Canberra Theatre Centre ensure that Canberra audiences are exposed to a wide range of contemporary dance work, including that from international choreographers.

Dancer Emily Seymour describes the program most succinctly: “Right from the beginning, the work really draws the audience in and then takes them on an incredible journey.”

Ascent will be performed at the Canberra Theatre Centre from 9 to 11 March.

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