"One of the things that's very beautiful about dance is the physical form and being able to see the articulation of that."
From Suffolk to Sydney via Spain, the music of British pianist and composer Benjamin Britten will once again find form and flow as choreographer Rafael Bonachela leads Sydney Dance Company (SDC) in a triple bill of short works set to some of the Lowestoft-born auteur's most romantic pieces.
Triptych will feature two re-staged and one new Bonachela creation, in addition to the exquisite vocals of ARIA Award-winning chanteuse Katie Noonan and the live accompaniment of 17 young string players from the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Add a splash of fashion from designer Toni Maticevski and Britten's beautiful song cycle will be reconfigured and reinvented.
"I tend to hold on to whatever is in the music that inspires me or what it is that evokes some kind of feeling response."
For Perth-born dancer and SDC veteran Juliette Barton, Triptych represents both a return and a departure. Having previously danced one of the Les Illuminations duets with the company, she's familiar with the steps but, as she points out, Britten's music is not the usual soundscape-glitch favoured by contemporary dance. "I guess it does change the stylistic approach and you have to adapt. It's quite deep and emotive and really quite moving. There's a lot to hang on to."
Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter
As someone whose job it is to physically interpret music, the "hanging on to" part is critical. "I tend to hold on to whatever is in the music that inspires me or what it is that evokes some kind of feeling response," Barton explains. "So, it might not be a storytelling thing but something in me that will hopefully transfer across to the audience."
However, part of the dancer's craft is also to be cognisant of the greater whole and to not become too introspective. In other words, the classic balance between performance and expression. "You hook onto those musical things fairly early in the process but, at the same, you have to come at it from both angles; so, y'know, the emotional or mental but also the idea of being in tune with what the whole piece is."
This dual focus trick is doubly difficult when performing to live music, as Sydney Dance Company will for Triptych. Natural tempo variations require much closer attention and, as Barton admits, "It's so easy for dancers — once you've rehearsed something so many times — to go onto auto and just let muscle memory take over; but you kinda have to throw that out the window when you're dancing to live music, which is a really nice and refreshing challenge because it encourages you to be right in the moment."
The other intriguing aspect of the show will be incorporating Melbourne-based designer Toni Maticevski's bespoke garments. "I imagine they'll be in keeping with his very glamorous, high-fashion style. But, y'know, they'll be danceable," Barton reveals, "because one of the things that's very beautiful about dance is the physical form and being able to see the articulation of that. We work a lot on that here at Sydney Dance Company, that massive articulation; really trying to use absolutely everything that's within our capability. So if you costume too heavily you lose some of that."
With Bonachela's trademark intensity and Britten's resoundingly romantic compositions (augmented by Noonan's remarkable soprano voice) to guide them, Barton and co will doubtless worry less about sartorial elegance than about delivering the physical and emotional power of the piece. Although, as Barton attests, "It's always nice to look good."