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Making moves with Sydney Dance Company’s Rafael Bonachela

Rafael Bonachela, Sydney Dance Company

By Adeline Teoh

Ahead of the 2024 Sydney Dance Company season, we catch up with artistic director Rafael Bonachela.

“Dance brings people together,” says Rafael Bonachela. Since his appointment as Sydney Dance Company artistic director in 2009, he’s made no secret of his mission to help the Australian dance sector mature. “It’s been a goal of mine to transform Australia’s understanding of what contemporary dance is, pushing the boundaries of what contemporary dance can be, and ensuring that contemporary dance is accessible to everyone.”

Born in Spain, the dancer and choreographer has had an eclectic career spanning several countries and decades. The impetus to dance was an early one, he recalls. “When I was very young growing up in the small town La Garriga in Spain, my favourite game in the playground used to be to ‘make a dance’. I used to love bringing my boogie box to the town square and make up steps that my friends could perform. At the time I wasn’t even aware that what I was doing was called choreography.”

Rafael Bonachela, Sydney Dance Company

From there he attended dance school in Barcelona, then the UK, before joining London dance company, Rambert as a dancer in 1992. There he began to explore choreography through Rambert’s Workshop season, which is similar to Sydney Dance Company’s New Breed program. “The first piece I created was taken into the company repertoire and after that experience I jumped at every single chance to choreograph I was given. In my final years as a dancer I was appointed as associate choreographer at Rambert,” he says.

In 2004, a win at the inaugural The Place Prize for contemporary dance encouraged him to dedicate himself fully to choreography. Cash from the prize enabled him to employ a part-time producer and secure additional funding to start the Bonachela Dance Company, where he choreographed for stars like Kylie Minogue and Tina Turner, as well as dance troupes.

A few years later, Sydney Dance Company invited Bonachela to create a piece for it. It was meant to be a short stay, but after the production it offered him the job of artistic director. “After spending a month in Sydney working with the company in the extraordinary heritage-listed wharf studios, I began to see a future here was very possible and I was incredibly excited at the prospect of leading this exceptional company into the future.”

He accepted the role and has been at the helm ever since. “As the resident choreographer, I’m very passionate about creating new works to give our company its signature by developing an identity and aesthetic that is uniquely ours. As the artistic director and curator, my focus has been on introducing international choreographers to Australia for the first time. A strong focus is also commissioning and supporting homegrown talent, because I feel that it’s important to also showcase great Australian choreographic voices when we go overseas.”

The troupe is about to embark on an extensive multi-city tour abroad with venues across Europe and the USA, including its debut performance at the Royal Opera House in London, with an official reception at Australia House – “a significant milestone for the company,” Bonachela remarks.

momenta, Sydney Dance Company
momenta, Sydney Dance Company

That’ll be followed by the 2024 season opener, momenta, Bonachela’s first full-length work in more than three years, which he created with composer Nick Wales, lighting designer Damien Cooper and set designer Elizabeth Gadsby. The work is “a journey into the poetry and physics of human connection, and explores themes of the universe, physics, space and time, which is applied an emotional landscape,” he describes. “Elizabeth Gadsby’s set design for momenta will be huge in scale, reflecting the universal themes of the work. It will be an immersive and moving experience for audiences.”

Another calendar item of note is July’s Club Origami season for children six years old and under, which Bonachela says reflects a growing focus on dance performances created specifically for children. That, and “more site-specific and durational work” marks some of the trends he has noted in Australian dance of late.

“The Australian dance scene is very rich and diverse, and we are lucky in Australia because we have access to a wide range of dance styles. At the moment there is also a lot of discourse about diversity and inclusiveness in dance, which is hugely important,” he says. “Beyond the language we speak, beyond where we come from around the world, we all understand the body.”

Sydney Dance Company’s new season begins in May with momenta. Tickets and subscriptions are now on sale. Visit Sydney Dance Company for details.


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