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Flash Review 2, 6-23: Feverish
Bonachela Basques in Debut

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2006 Josephine Leask

LONDON -- London-based Catalan artist Rafael Bonachela launched his shiny new company this week at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with the double bill Voices. All eyes were focused on the Bonachela Dance Company, as in recent years Bonachela himself, former associate choreographer of Rambert Dance Company, has been clocking up recognition with his choreography and success as the first winner of the Place Prize. In the commercial world he also has enjoyed some attention as choreographer for Kylie Minogue's "Fever" world tour and, more recently, for Tina Turner.

Bonachela's two pieces, seen June 14, are short, intense and impressive. The team of six dancers appears slick, forceful and totally in tune with one another. Bonachela's choreography looks taxing to perform. He favors demanding partner work in which bodies become distorted as limbs twist around each other, and in which movements tend to be performed with punishing dynamics and sudden staccato pushing and pulling, all of which demands a strong technique and calm core strength.

In the first dance, "Ahotsak," which means "voices" in Basque, the action begins slowly with the dancers dressed like relaxed tourists, and couples embracing to a sound score of unthreatening background traffic noise. Soon mixed in with this noise we hear harsher Basque voices and then the evocative music of Luciano Berio's "Naturale." When the live music, played by Paul Silverthorne on viola and David Hockings on percussion, starts, everything becomes more tense and threads of complexity are woven into the choreography. The general look of the piece is that of controlled chaos, and the dancers appear more emotionally charged than at the beginning as they re-enact subtexts of loneliness, helplessness, violence and insanity. Sometimes they attach onto each other in desperate duos and fall together like discarded bundles to the floor, other times they dance in a knotted trio or plaintive solo. They seem to crave contact and affection from each other. In the climactic section, the dancers move flat out in unison and somehow seem to purge their conflicts, which have been demonstrated by jarring movements, and replace them with smoother, larger gestures. But the final sound of gunshots and a return to emotional neediness makes for a gloomy closure.

"Set Boundaries" is an urgently provocative and stylish work, a multi-media collaboration between video artist Lenka Clayton, lighting designer Lee Curran and theater designer Alan Macdonald. Electronic composer Matthew Herbert's score, based on Alan Seeger's "Rendezvous with Death," is wonderfully powerful. Arranged for voices by Peter Wraight, it's mixed with percussion and a recording of a Kurdish asylum-seeker about to be deported, both adding to the dramatic tension.

The piece starts with a video projection of faceless guards standing outside what could be a concrete wall or a prison, under which five live dancers stand in a square-lit spot, stripped down to their white underwear. The video is intriguingly ambiguous -- the guards look like they have been duplicated, as they seem identical, framed by the surreal and gigantic architecture behind them. The video montage changes with each section of the choreography, depicting other similar looking guards, standing in front of more oppressive structures. The choreography, shifting and flowing, contrasts dramatically with the monolithic solidity of the buildings and the soldiers. As in the first piece, much of the choreography looks skillfully awkward, the dancers using their sophisticated technique to portray a struggle with their emotional demons as well as physical barriers. Without being overtly political, "Set Boundaries" suggests that borders can make one powerful and yet at the same time impotent. Such pathos is also conveyed by the voices within the choral work, which sound both overpowering and vulnerable.

Bonachela's work seems to combine intellectual seriousness and subtle sexiness. His use of expression carried in the body and strong sense of design and appearance makes for the sexiness, while the concept and choreography are that of a troubled but thinking man.

 

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