Review: Impermanence (Adelaide Festival)

The epitome of art reflecting life

Venue: Adelaide Festival Centre
Length: 1 hr 5 mins

5/5 stars

The world class Sydney Dance Company and Australian String Quartet (Dale Barltrop, Francesca Hiew, Stephen King, and Michael Dahlenburg) join forces in this deeply evocative and mesmerising spectacle. Choreographed by Rafael Bonachela, Impermanence perfectly captures the zeitgeist of 2020; a year where uncertainty was certain and the fragility of our world was exposed. Impermanence is the epitome of art reflecting life.

The show was performance-ready at the beginning of last year, but was postponed due to COVID-19. In the interim, Bonachela and composer Bryce Dessner extended the show, influenced by last year’s bushfire crisis and the ensuing pandemic. The finished product is therefore an apt representation of Australian society’s current psyche. After the issues arts industries continue to face in Australia and around the world due to the pandemic, this show proves that art — in every shape and form — will continue to be a much-needed reflection of society no matter what.

Impermanence is a masterclass in artistic equilibrium. Is the music leading the dancers or are the dancers shadowing the score? The ensemble — the dancers and the music — meld together to form one malleable entity that continues until one performer or musician strays and the unity breaks, deftly changing the rhythm and tone of both the visual and auditory displays. One moment the music and dancers undulate smoothly like the tide; the next they are staccato and irate.

The lighting — designed by Damian Cooper — seamlessly shifts with the emotion evoked by the ensemble: initially a dull grey and then a startling white that turns the dancers into ghostly silhouettes. As the show continues, the ensemble wade through syrupy amber and then are bathed in deep blues. There is an urgency to Bonachela’s deft and unpredictable choreography that is captured with ease by the Sydney Dance Company and complemented by the changing lighting. The audience watch as the physical and auditory spectacle repeatedly morphs to represent despair and destruction, transient moments of stability and stillness, as well as joyous rebirth. Dessner’s stunning and soaring music complements the visual aspects of the show to such an extent they form one seamless artistic product, leaving the audience in an awestruck reverie.

After watching the stage fill and empty of dancers repeatedly, a calm settles throughout the auditorium as the show ends with a peaceful contemporary solo, accompanied by Another World by Anohni, arranged for the Quartet by Dessner.

Impermanence distils the uncertainty, sadness, and beauty of the world’s experiences over the last year into an unforgettable hour of music and dance.



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