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Bonachela Dance Company at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Posted on June 16, 2006

The linking title of Voices provides the theme for Bonachela’s first programme, a double bill, for his newly-formed company. He’s always liked choreographing to vocal music, whether to pop songs or, most recently in Curious Conscience for Rambert, poems set to music by Benjamin Britten. Mark Baldwin had challenged him to extend his range with the Britten score; now Bonachela is pushing himself further, taking on Luciano Berio’s Naturale for the opening piece, Ahotsak, and commissioning a score from Matthew Herbert for Set Boundaries.

In place of the choppy, hyper-fast moves of his earlier work, Bonachela is developing a more emotive vocabulary. In Ahotsak (which means voices in Basque), his six dancers interconnect and break apart in a series of needy relationships. The context seems urban. No music at first, just the whoosh of traffic as Theo Clinkard gestures, distraught, against a bleak backdrop. Then, as two musicians seated at the side of the stage join in, the dancers pair up in fretful partnering. Berio’s music is for viola and tam-tam (played at the South Bank by Paul Silverthorne and David Hockings), with the recorded voice of a Sicilian popular singer, Celano. Since the words are unintelligible, the dancers’ angst could be about anything and everything: failure to communicate, to find consolation, love, understanding.

Yet when the music veers into folk dance rhythms, the couples put their differences aside and cohere into a unison group. Their brief community splinters as they swap partners, argue in trios, assert themselves in solos (Antonia Grove riveting in her sensual absorption). There’s no logic to what they do, except as a response to the music’s moods; the ending, bathed in a red glow, remains ambivalent. But their human predicaments are far more involving than Bonachela’s earlier experiments with disaffected dancing in a thumping club scene.

He aims for political significance in Set Boundaries, which is dominated by Lenka Clayton’s video installation. North Korean frontier guards patrol a border post, each half of the screen mirroring the other, though disconcertingly time-lapsed. The soundtrack is associated with killing, its percussive sounds taken from spent shells used in Israel and Iraq. Alan Seeger’s 1916 war poem, I Have a Rendezvous With Death, has been arranged by Pete Wraight as a Britten-like lament; in between its verses, the words of a Kurdish asylum seeker are recited on tape by an impassive English voice. Altogether too much information, especially since the sinister video upstages the dancers, imprisoned below in squares of light.

Once again, they cleave together in pairs, though this time two are same-sex couples. The men handle each other violently; the women are more compassionate, though the angry athleticism of the partnering contradicts the loneliness of the sung and spoken words. Solos by Clinkard and Amy Hollingsworth retrieve an essential sense of isolation, both dancers bringing their personal skills to overstrained choreography. Bonachela is relying on fine interpreters and stylish presentation to compensate for a contemporary dance vocabulary that isn’t yet distinctive or expressive enough. He has still to define exactly what he wants to say and why he needs his own company to say it.

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