In March 2020, the Sydney Dance Company was days away from debuting a new contemporary dance. This piece was a meditation on transience, inspired by the fire that consumed Notre-Dame Cathedral, and the fires that ravaged the Australian bush. It combined the intricate choreography of company artistic director Rafael Bonachela and the textured music of composer Bryce Dessner, of band The National. This production was called Impermanence.
With bitter irony, Impermanence never opened in that form, cancelled when Australia’s coronavirus shutdown stopped live performances. A year on, with theatres open again, an expanded production of Impermanence tours Australia, now enriched by the churning crucible of 2020.
This poignant and nuanced work is a mature exploration of ephemerality. Here, the end of stability is the release of energy, with the dancers blazing like a fire that dazzles even as it consumes. While there is melancholy and trauma in the movement, there are also flourishes of joy and grit, as the collapse of lazy routines sparks a straining quest for stability that will endure.
For anyone who experienced coronavirus lockdown, these feelings are relatable.
Bonachela’s choreography establishes problems that the dancers must call on their individuality to solve, and the result is authentic, fervent, and sometimes overwhelming. Bryce Dessner’s exceptional, absorbing score, played with verve by the Australian String Quartet, pulses with energy, finding awe and majesty in the terror of collapse. Pacing is exceptional, with ecstatic spectacle balanced by thoughful detours.
Lighting Designer Damien Cooper uses wistful colour and clinging shadow to paint the performance, with the flickering depersonalisation of the performers conveying hungry entropy, in a softer take on the company's 2018 Lux Tenebris.
This brilliant dance is a triumph of determination, hijacking the deprivations of 2020 to build a stronger work and deeper connection with the audience. When things fall apart, there is rage and sorrow, but also opportunity and ecstacy. The world-class performers thrill with their artistry, while the searching music will haunt the imagination. Impermanence captures the energy of the atom split, and the resolution to survive the end of everything.