Sydney Dance Company and the Australian Chamber Orchestra come to Hong Kong

Expect something incredible when Sydney Dance Company and the Australian Chamber Orchestra appear together on stage at Kwai Tsing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 November, 2015, 6:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 November, 2015, 6:01am

When the 16 dancers of the Sydney Dance Company (SDC) take to the stage, the musicians accompanying them are, most often, heard but not seen. Recorded music is their usual accompaniment, but not so for the two shows they are presenting at Kwai Tsing Theatre next weekend. The musicians will be on stage with the dancers in a performance integrating live dance and live music in a groundbreaking way.

These are not just any musicians; the internationally renowned Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) has staged more than 50 tours to 250 cities in its 30 years. Its artistic director and lead violin, Richard Tognetti, has an international reputation for his conducting, his performances on his rare Guarneri violin and his compositions.

"This is two iconic Australian companies that are in so many ways matched in spirit," says SDC's Spanish artistic director Rafael Bonachela. "It's a very vibrant and alive orchestra and it's a very special occasion that these companies are coming together."

He adds: "One of the very beautiful things about this collaboration is that we don't often have live music and when we do it is often a string quartet. To have an ensemble, the ACO, is just definitely in a different league."

Certainly Melbourne audiences thought so. A one-off performance of Illuminated, the three-work programme comprising Les Illuminations, Project Rameau and Variation 10 that the companies will present in Hong Kong, drew an ecstatic reception and multiple curtain calls from the excited full house in late October.

Singing with the companies in Hong Kong will be award-winning Australian singer-songwriter Katie Noonan. She will take the role performed by Australian Opera's Taryn Fiebig in Melbourne during Les Illuminations. Noonan approached Bonachela, convinced she could do it, and the pair approached Tognetti with an idea he says "seems quite improbable, because she is for all intents and purposes a pop singer".

But he admits: "Somehow it does suit her voice and it is a modern era and it's modern dance so we can take risks with that. We would not want to get up in Carnegie Hall [with her], I think. For this project, I think it really works well."

The Melbourne premiere was the first time the three works had been performed together and for some of the SDC's newer dancers, Project Rameau was a new work.

"They really wanted Rameau," Bonachela says, referring to the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. "So we decided to do it for Hong Kong, even though it had been put to sleep. Maybe five of the dancers had not performed it before and had to learn it from scratch."

But the opportunity to share this work with audiences in Hong Kong was well worth the effort, says Bonachela, a former dancer and choreographer with the Rambert Dance Company who took over in Sydney seven years ago. The SDC last visited Hong Kong in 1987, under its renowned former artistic director Graeme Murphy, but Bonachela is keen to build on his previous Eurocentric experience by developing Asian networks.

Hong Kong Dance Company dancers recently took classes in Sydney during their tour there and the SDC will run classes for them while in Hong Kong. "I feel like there has been a very excited build-up," says Bonachela, who toured in Asia as a dancer.

They really wanted Rameau. So we decided to do it for Hong Kong even though it had been put to sleep
Rafael Bonachela, artistic director, Sydney Dance Company

Bonachela has worked intensively with the dancers in the lead-up to the Hong Kong performance and says they have built up an energy that was obvious to the Melbourne audience.

He is also aware that his own choreography is "very purist, craft and choreographic work" and is on the lookout for collaborators, especially those with a more theatrical bent, to bring variety to the company. "That is a new, exciting world for me," he says.

Meanwhile, the ACO will not be just performing with the SDC in Hong Kong but undertaking a multifaceted residency.

"Ideally every year we should be going to Japan, Shanghai, Hong Kong," says the in-demand Tognetti. "We are stretched to the limit of what 17 of us can do."

But Hong Kong audiences are about to get maximum value from the renowned ensemble. As well as the SDC collaboration, its free digital installation ACO VIRTUAL will be set up at Kwai Tsing Theatre's Black Box Theatre on November 11, 12 and 14, enabling visitors to experience the orchestra in the round.

The installation, built by Sydney digital media production company Mod Productions, features 2D and 3D projections of 13 of the orchestra's musicians, with the sound of each coming from its individual projection. A touch screen stand enables users to spotlight and listen to one or a selection of musicians, to turn on the musical score and to manipulate the images - like a video game.

It's been seen by almost 50,000 people across Australia since it was conceived a couple of years ago, and Tognetti says: "It really takes you into a parallel world and its immersive technology. It's really exciting technology, especially for kids or people who have never experienced an orchestra.

"Education should be fun. Music education - for a lot of people it is a dumbfounding, dry thing."

Moreover, ACO, that fine string ensemble, is bringing ACO Underground, described as an electro-acoustic collective, featuring Tognetti himself, violinist Satu Vänskä and her Stradivarius, Brian Ritchie, bass player with the Violent Femmes, Jim Moginie of Midnight Oil and Noonan. They will perform at Qube in PMQ on November 12.

It's a mix of contemporary and classical works reimagined - "a mix of electronic and old-fashioned rock 'n' roll," Tognetti says. "It's a curating of musical styles … It is music that is part of us. We don't really want to subject a normal subscription audience to it and we can go nuts and present original music."

So are Hong Kong people up for this? "We don't know, that's part of the attraction and danger of going into other people's turf."

Illuminated , Kwai Tsing Theatre, Nov 13 and 14, 8pm. Tickets: HK$200-HK$480.

ACO Underground, Qube at PMQ, Nov 12, 8.30pm. Tickets: HK$320.

ACO VIRTUAL, Black Box Theatre at Kwai Tsing Theatre, Nov 11, 12 and 14, various showing times. Free admission. Inquiries for all programmes: 2268 7323