Sydney Dance Company’s Frame of Mind drills a hole into your heart and brain and makes you leak emotion in that sneaky, visceral way only dance can do.
It's in fact two short contemporary dance pieces: Quintett, choreographed by William Forsythe, then Frame of Mind, by Sydney Dance Company’s artistic director, Rafael Bonachela. The result is stunning contemporary dance — neither pretentious, nor attempting any grand narrative. These are simply short, genuine outpourings of life and feeling from two very different choreographers, made accessible by committed dancers.
Understanding the context of Quintett’s conception is pivotal to the experience. Originally created in 1993 (this is its Australian premiere), Quintett was a love letter from Forsythe to his terminally ill wife. Despite these tragic circumstances, Forsythe's work celebrates the chase of love. It’s full of pulls, falls and negotiations; at once both whimsical and profound.
The quintet of dancers (Cass Mortimer Eipper, Chloe Leong, David Mack, Jesse Scales and Sam Young-Wright) engage in explorative play. Each dancer seems to ask, “what can my body do when I look at it anew?” They defy the everyday constraints placed on the body, and provoke their fellow dancers — taps on the bum, grabbing, shakes and whiplash — all to see how far they can possibly go.
There is no storyline to follow, or characters to orbit, but the unshakeable feeling they are dancing a memoir. This may be a thank you letter for the moments shared, but it has no final signature. Each extension is intersected and retracted, each posture never fully completed. The bodies constantly interrupt each other's trajectories, so that one must always surrender to another, relinquish and release. The captivating Leong is still running and reaching as the curtain falls.
The music mashes up a frail male voice singing a hymn with the crying sounds of strings. It's a simple but catchy looping that makes us aware of the eternal life/death cycle, and humbles us for thinking our own lives so important. Another beautiful element of both Quintett and Frame of Mind is the inclusion of ‘the watcher’. When dancers are not engaged, they pause and watch their peers. Spectatorship being so integral to human behaviour, it’s nice to see dancers drop their guard.
Frame of Mind has a turbulent and moody atmosphere, exploding into action with the unnerving, staccato song of violins — the contemporary-classical soundtrack comes from The National's Bryce Dessner. We see warrior-esque rituals, moments of bared teeth and risk-taking choreography that leaves no room for error. We watch dances of despair, reverie and entrapment.
The lighting of Frame of Mind is breathtaking. Forsythe’s uses mirrors and projectors to cast Quintett into the refracted/reflected world of memory. Meanwhile, Benjamin Cisterne creates the daily cycle of sun/moonlight for Frame of Mind, within the cavernous abandoned warehouse that designer Ralph Myers has created. Cisterne alerts our eyes to unexpected shades and silhouettes, such that we begin to doubt the materiality of this world. Are those watermarks on the walls, or ghosts, or continents?
Quintett aches with shared memories, and Frame of Mind rattles the psyche. Anyone willing to submit to a corporeal experience should attend.