Rafael Bonachela premieres new works in the region

International choreographer Rafael Bonachela is staging the UK premiere of two new works in the region this weekend. ANDREW CLARKE spoke to him about his inspiration and his urge to perform.

DanceEast's annual Snape Dances festival in November has long had a reputation for bringing work of a national and international quality to the region.

This year the bar is being raised higher still when Spanish choreographer Rafael Bonachela stages the UK premiere of his two latest works with the renowned Sydney Dance Company – LANDforms and 6 Breaths.

Both pieces have been choreographed in partnership with his long-term musical collaborator Ezio Bosso.

Speaking from a rehearsal room in Sydney, Rafael said that he is looking forward to returning to Britain where he first forged his career as a young professional dancer at the legendary Rambert Dance Company.

He joined the London company in 1992 as a fresh-faced youngster, rose to the position of lead dancer before leaving in 2005 to set up his own company, having gained the position of associate choreographer.

In 2008 he was appointed artistic director of the Sydney Dance Company following a commission to produce a dance work 360 degrees. This followed his work with Kylie Minogue both at the 2002 Brit awards and on successive tours.

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He has also worked with Tina Turner, The Kills and Primal Scream.

Rafael's work has always concentrated on the themes of bodies in motion and these new works are no different. He describes himself as a 'movement junkie' and the exploration and experimentation of pure movement is his motivation.

In addition to his own movement vocabulary, he finds inspiration in the visual arts and in music.

Taking a break from rehearsal he said: 'I feel my work is about humanity. It has to make an emotional connection with the audience. I have had people come to me and say: 'I cried throughout your last piece,' Not that my work is about making people cry, I like them to feel joyful as well but feeling something is important. I like the fact that you can reach out to people using just pure dance – no talking, no narrative, just dance.'

Rafael's roots were as a dancer but his reputation has soared since he has become a choreographer. I was intrigued to ask: Had he always wanted to be a choreographer?

'When I was very young, living just outside Barcelona in the late 70s and 80s, I always wanted to dance. I loved making dances although I did not know it was called choreography. I was dancing from a young age but it wasn't until I was 15 that I realised you could train to be a dancer.'

He said that discovery was a revelation and he set off to pursue his dream performing at the age of 17 with the famed Lanonima Imperial. Soon after he moved to London to join the Rambert Dance Company in London.

'Very soon I started making dances and started becoming a choreographer. It was a natural progression. I never set out with the intention of saying 'now I am a choreographer.'

So does he miss the performance side of things? And as a choreographer is he ever tempted to show his dancers how to do it rather than let them explore the work on their own?

He laughs: 'I am a very physical choreographer, that is true. I like working in a studio with my dancers. I like developing work. I like to move I like to work with my dancers but now I don't get to perform on a stage.'

He says that he does miss the sound of applause but he gets a buzz and a thrill from seeing his work on stage.

He says that he works hard at maintaining an identity to the pieces he creates. 'I think they have my stamp on them. Every piece has a sense of identity. I think all my works deal in motion. I like exploring the way things move. I like working in pure dance. There's not a story as such but I like to explore ideas, feelings.

'I like to create abstract works using the body, very physical dance but not abstract in a cold way. You still have to connect with an audience. Both they and you have to feel something. It is not a technical exercise.'

Part of this sense of identity can be traced to his long-running collaboration with composer Ezio Bosso – a working partnership which started while Rafael was still working at the Rambert Company.

The pair have worked hand-in-glove to create these two works – music and movement being composed in tandem.

'I have always enjoyed working very closely with Ezio. From the moment we met, we have worked very well together. I like his music.

'These two pieces came from ideas from the pair of us. 6 Breaths came from a concept from Ezio. He said to me he was interested in the concept of breathing. LANDforms came from me – again a very physical concept.

'Music is an important part of the process. In fact it is a total collaboration. At times I will explain what I am looking for, other times Ezio will come to me with music he has written and I will listen to a demo and I will go: 'Yes, that is beautiful' and will go away and choreograph something.'

He said that working as a collaboration removes that sense of isolation that can often set in, if you are alone in a dance studio working on something. 'It not only gives you someone to bounce off. It also pushes you, it tests you.

'Ezio said to me that something I was working on would be good as a duet. I had not seen it as a duet, had not choreographed it as a duet. But he saw it, and it was a beautiful duet. It is good to have a dialogue because it can make things clearer in your own mind.

'At times you can make things too complicated or you are too wound up in what you are doing to see the piece as a whole. Just talking to someone else can help make your work better.'

As a result of Ezio's pushing LANDforms is Rafael's first work to be danced to vocal music. 'I had always resisted. Away from the pop arena I prefer to work with pure music.

'Ezio was the first person to insist I choreograph a piece to a sung song. LANDforms has an aria in it.'

Premiering his two new works at Snape Maltings Concert Hall, in Aldeburgh, comes with a few nerves.

He said that LANDforms was designed as a response to living in Australia for two years – incorporating the feel of the country and its landscape.

'After two years living in Australia and experiencing the powerful and drastic contrasts of the landscape it felt like the right subject for a work and one close to my everyday life.

'It wasn't until we spent 10 days in research and development with Ezio and the dancers in our studios in August, 2010, that we crystallised our vision for a dance work inspired by our emotional responses to the landscape and set to a score inspired by the weather elements that shape that landscape.'

This sense of collaboration also included work on the costumes. 'This time I have also created the costume design for LANDforms.

'This was a decision taken because I kept imagining quite clearly what the dancers would be wearing as I constructed the piece and it made sense to bring my imaginings to life – it felt right and cohesive. I wanted earthy tones – organic and natural and of course I wanted to show off the incredible physicality of the dancers.'

? LAND forms and 6 Breaths will be given their UK premiere at the Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Aldeburgh, Suffolk, as part of DanceEast's Snape Dances on November 18-19, 7.30pm, �24, �20, �16, �12 (under- 18s �2 off), 01728 687110


? There will be a free preperformance talk on November 19.