Rafael Bonachela, Sydney Dance Company Artistic Director and Choreographer on creating Ascent
Sydney Dance Company is Australia’s foremost contemporary dance company and under the leadership of Spanish Choreographer and Artistic Director Rafael Bo

Sydney Dance Company is Australia’s foremost contemporary dance company and under the leadership of Spanish Choreographer and Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela, the company this week premiered an exciting triple bill, Ascent, at Sydney Opera House. 

Bonachela’s dance journey began in Barcelona at the relatively late age of 15, before his dance dreams took him to London to train with Rambert. During his 12 years with the prestigious contemporary dance company, Bonachela had the opportunity to work with renowned choreographers Richard Alston and Christopher Bruce and dance works by Merce Cunningham, Jiří Kylián, Twyla Tharp, Mats Ek, Sue Davies, Wayne McGregor, Frederick Ashton and Antony Tudor and more. It was during this time that he began creating his own work, before going on to found his own company, where Bonachela continued to develop his choreographic voice. 

At the time Bonachela arrived in Sydney, he was a guest choreographer and had no intention of staying beyond his commission. However, Sydney Dance Company was looking for its next Artistic Director and although Bonachela wasn’t initially interested in the position, after spending a month in Sydney and experiencing the city’s unique harbour-side dance studios, he began to see himself living there. 

Bonachela’s vision of commissioning both Australian and internationally respected choreographers and creating his own work for the company secured him the role. And under his artistic direction, the company has continued to thrive, with works from a diverse range of choreographers, as showcased in Ascent, a triple bill of two premieres, an international choreographer and an award-winning Australian creator.

Bonachela’s passion bubbles as he explains the inspiration for Ascent, “We needed to start high, I think the last couple of years have been too hard for everybody. And we were back at the Opera House so I was like let’s ‘ascend’ and then hopefully the audiences will be taking that journey with us as they enjoy the evening in Sydney, and they would be elevated through movement and dance and what we do.”

Internationally acclaimed choreographer Marina Mascarell was invited by Bonchela to set a new work on the company for Ascent. Mascarell and Bonachela have known each other for many years and her new piece The Shell, A Ghost, The Host & The Lyrebird is the culmination of discussions that started before the pandemic. Mascarell come out to Sydney to work with the company and collaborated with Australian set and costume designers Lauren Brincat and Leah Giblin to create a visually stunning and moving piece inspired by Australia, with a stage filled with moving sails, accompanied by Australian bird sounds, that captures the essence of the country. 

Mascarell’s piece honours Bonachela’s commitment to bringing renowned creators to the company to deepen the repertoire. He believes that every time a new choreographer works with the company, they leave behind dancers who have grown both physically and intellectually, providing a gift not only to the dancers but to anyone who has the privilege of watching them perform.

This gift can also be seen in the way Bonachela creates his own work. His new piece I Am-ness which opens the Ascent triple bill, explores the idea that humans are both physical bodies and conscious minds at the same time. The choreographer worked with four talented dancers to create a 13-minute piece that showcases the dancer’s unique artistry.

Bonachela approaches new work by setting the dancers tasks, improvisations and experimental exercises, designed to provoke the dancers and inspire new ideas. However, when approaching I Am-ness in the studio, he found that the dancers’ physical connection to one another demanded a different approach. Rather than imposing his own ideas, he allowed the work to take on a life of its own, following the lead of the dancers and responding to their touch, their movements and interactions.

Throughout the process, the choreographer emphasised the importance of ‘I Am-ness’, a sense of oneness and connection between the dancers. He encouraged them to trust their instincts and impulses, and to focus on the present moment rather than overthinking or analysing their movements.

As Artistic Director, Bonachela also has a clear vision of the qualities he looks for in dancers, seeking out those with “intelligent bodies and open minds,” regardless of their background or training.

The company dancers range from ballet dancers and those who have trained in multiple techniques but gravitate towards a more natural way of moving. Bonachela firmly sees Sydney Dance Company’s dancers reflecting the diversity of modern Australia, and serves as a microcosm of the wider society, making the company uniquely Australian.

Ascent features two premieres from Bonachela and Marina Mascarell and the return of Antony Hamilton’s Helpmann award-winning Forever & Ever. 

Ascent runs from 15 March – 26 March 2023 at the Sydney Opera House, with the Australian national tour from May – August 2023.

For more information and tickets visit: Sydney Dance Company

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