6 Dec

Up Close & Personal

An Interview with Mr Rafael Bonachela

Artistic Director

Sydney Dance Company, Australia

Photo credit: Ben Symons

  • You have been the head Sydney Dance Company for almost nine years. How did you find the Company when you arrived and what do you think you have achieved to this day?

When I arrived in Sydney, the company was going through a period of transition, was looking to the future and ready for change.

Over the past nine years, I have been focused on bringing a fresh and invigorating perspective to dance in Australia. Building a strong Company with a singular identity and aesthetic, informed by my enthusiasm to create new work, to commission international talent and to build upon Australian choreographic talent.

I believe in contemporary dance and what we do as one of the most exciting, moving and transformative experiences audiences can have today. Having that in mind, my mission has been to create works that enable audiences to share in this experience – not just here in Australia but internationally as well.

In addition to commissioning choreographers, we create dance works that are multidisciplinary collaborations with celebrated and influential artists in different fields, always connected to a source of on-going stimulation. It’s important to me artistically speaking, to embrace different disciplines with a multitude of forms from technology, film, visual arts, design, fashion – the list could go on and on and that’s what is so fantastic about it!

Out of this vision has emerged a unique signature through work that does not belong to anyone else but us; dance at the highest level of quality, dance that is synonymous with Sydney Dance Company.

  • What conditions or abilities must a dancer have to join SDC?

The dancers are key to the success of Sydney Dance Company. I like dancers with open minds and intelligent bodies. Highly trained individuals with a deep knowledge of contemporary and classical techniques. I look for dancers with personality, dancers who have a mind of their own, who like to get involved in the creative process so that a dialogue can exist, bringing even more possibilities for change and discovery.

I am lucky to have a team of 16 incredibly talented and committed dancers who are able to embrace and embody different styles and influences with an astounding level of discipline, tenacity and grace. This has been instrumental in being allowed to perform some of the key works we have presented in recent years, including William Forsythe’s masterpiece Quintett, for which the Company has been recognised with several dance awards.

  • Which type or training do your dancers carry out? Ballet? Yoga?

We train in both contemporary and classical techniques, giving them equal importance and value. The dancers also train in yoga, pilates and circuit training for conditioning. They each have their own individualised programme to work through on a daily basis for injury prevention, which is modified from week to week according to the demands of the repertoire we are rehearsing at the time.

Photo credit: Mariano Vivanco

  • You just returned from the Shanghai International Arts Festival, please share with us your thoughts on bringing your work to Shanghai.

I had a fantastic time in Shanghai. It was great to reconnect with my dear friend Jin Xing nine years after we first met at the Venice Biennale in Italy. Jin Xing was such a wonderful host and made sure we felt incredibly welcomed in Shanghai, and hosting a farewell party on our last night so both companies could meet and spend some time together.

I visited the amazing complex where Jin Xing Dance Theatre is based, which is a great industrial location. We taught a master class to the company who were such hard-working dancers – so focused and open to new movement. I also travelled to Yixing to see them perform. Jin Xing also performed, which was wonderful to experience.

I was very lucky to catch a showing at Shanghai Theatre Academy of an international collaboration between Australian choreographer and Dancer Victoria Chu and local dancers, musicians and filmmakers. It was a really interesting showing, a dance installation drawing from family stories that come from their ancestors in China. It was wonderful to see Victoria’s journey back to her roots, a home coming of a young artist reconnecting with her cultural heritage. And some really beautiful dancing too.

I had a tour of the brand new international dance centre – what an impressive cultural precinct with wonderful modern architecture. I also heard that there are 48 studios between all the companies and schools – I have never heard of anything like that anywhere else in the world. I was very impressed with all of the theatres I visited in Shanghai, Wuxi and Yixing.

As I understand, contemporary dance is such a relatively new art form in China but there seems to be such an appetite and openness for the experiencing new things. Our performances were very well attended and the response was enthusiastic.

  • Something fun to share from the trip?

The metro is a great way to move around and so easy to understand but I also walked a lot in in Shanghai. There is such a contrast between the height and density of the bund and the areas like the French Concession with beautiful trees everywhere. I found the city to be quiet for such a busy place, everyone using electric scooters and strolling along jumping in and out of bicycles.

I got lost in Tianzifan, people watching and absorbing the vibe and looking around galleries, shops and boutiques.

I couldn’t help myself and on a morning off, I went up to the Shanghai Tower. It was a clear day so you could really see the vast city, it was the highest I have ever been in a building and I could not believe how quick the lift got us up there, very impressive – quite an experience.

I was really impressed by the number of luxury brands around in the malls. Unfortunately, everything is a little too expensive for me but it’s equally exciting to see the small boutiques of independent Chinese designers producing high quality garments along Anfu road.

Click here to visit Sydney Dance Company’s website.