Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney, February 29
“This is a bit weird isn’t it,” mutters one of the dancers in Cacti to a huge laugh from the audience.
Created by Swedish choreographer Alexander Eckman in 2010, Cacti is a rare thing: a genuinely funny contemporary dance work. Sydney Dance Company first performed it in 2013 and is now reviving it alongside a new work by Rafael Bonachela as part of a double bill called CounterMove.
Poking fun at alienating, self-absorbed contemporary dance and at critics who indulge in a pretentious search for meaning, Cacti features 16 dancers, each with their own square, wooden platform (and later a cactus), a string quartet, an orchestral soundtrack and a wanky, jargon-laden voice-over analysing the work.
Cacti begins with the dancers in flesh coloured tops, black baggy pants and skullcaps kneeling on their separate wooden tiles. Seemingly trapped, they beat out rhythms, sprint on the spot in perfect unison, writhe, leap, fall and strike poses in a joyous display of exuberant physicality before larking around with their upended rostra and creating a large sculpture.
In a very funny duet performed by Charmene Yap and Bernhard Knauer, their humdrum thoughts are revealed via a voice-over as they dance. (“Look out for my head” and such like).
It’s lovely to actually laugh out-loud at contemporary dance and to see the dancers matching their glorious physicality with such animated facial expressions. Using wit to make a spiky point, Cacti is a breath of fresh air. Oh, and there’s a dead cat.
Bonachela’s Lux Tenebris, meaning light and darkness, was choreographed to a visceral electronic score commissioned from Nick Wales that buzzes, throbs, pulses and thumps, sending vibrations through the body.
Performed in shadows, we glimpse the dancers through the glowering half-light of copper-coloured light bulbs and shards of wan illumination (design by Benjamin Cisterne). Often, the effect is similar to a roving spotlight picking out people in the middle of already unfolding situations.
Clad in casual streetwear, the dancers hurl themselves into a frenzy of highly physical movement, kicking, whirling and whipping their way through solos, duets and various groupings.
Two beautiful, sexy duets between Charmene Yap and Todd Sutherland to more gentle music are like lulls in a storm. Acrobatic yet poetic, they resonate with the human yearning for connection before the work powers back into top gear.
Lux Tenebris has a slightly uneasy, disquieting air of mystery. Eventually the pounding score and ferocious physicality starts to feel relentless but the kick-ass choreography is incredibly exciting and the dancing is extraordinary.
CounterMove plays at the Roslyn Packer Theatre Walsh Bay, Sydney until March 12, Canberra Theatre Centre, May 19 – 21, and Southbank Theatre, Melbourne, May 25 – June 4
It then goes on a regional tour:
NSW: Wollongong, June 17 – 18, Orange, June 22, Newcastle, June 25, Port Macquarie, June 29
QLD: Rockhampton, July 2, Gladstone, July 6, Cairns, July 9 – 10, Gold Coast, July 15 – 16
NT: Darwin, July 29
WA: Geraldton, August 3, Mandurah, August 6, Albany, August 9, Bunbury, August 13
NSW: Bathurst, August 20, Griffith, August 24, Dubbo, August 27
A version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on March 6