LOUDER THAN WORDS SPEAKS VOLUMES AT THE SYDNEY DANCE COMPANY
By Kate Iselin - Photography by Toni Veziris
Andonis Foniadakis began his career in dance and choreography in his hometown of Ierapetra, Greece. After leaving the blue seas and white beaches of Crete to take a scholarship in Switzerland; his career has seen him travel the world. He has worked everywhere from Europe to the Americas to Asia, collaborating with some of the dance world's biggest names (the Geneva Ballet and the Benjamin Millipied Dance Company, just to name a few) and even working alongside acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky on his 2014 film, Noah. For the first time, Foniadakis is bringing his unique vision and style to another land of blue seas and white beaches - his work Parenthesis opens at the Sydney Dance Company on the 4th of October.
"I travel a lot for work, but the process is the same everywhere. What changes is the energy of the dancers I'm working with, and this group [in Sydney] has a different energy to any of the other companies I've worked with," Foniadakis explains. "They are very giving, very respectful, very focused with their work, and from what I have seen with this group they are very productive. There's not a lot of doubt, and they're always a step ahead, which has been great."
Parenthesis is presented as part of the company's Louder Than Words program, which sees two world premiere works open at Sydney Theatre.. Parenthesis deals with the concepts of duality and contrast – sensuality and ease versus discomfort and chaos, and what happens when the balance between two dueling forces is disrupted.
“I want the audience to feel intrigued about the way they see the dancers interacting – about their state of being, their desires, whether they want to be together and touch the other dancers, or collide with each other, or just harmonically co-exist with each other. I want the audience to see not just how beautifully the bodies function; but what the feeling is, what the emotions are, that are making them come together and interact.”
Foniadakis' creative process is a simple one, but made shorter by the fact that his stay in Australia has been kept to less than a month. “I've enjoyed Sydney as much as I've had the time to enjoy it,” he admits. “It's a lot of work, and it's a tight schedule – we've had almost three and a half weeks to make this creation, so I've had to be really concentrated and really focused. My process is to try to explore the emotions I have while listening to the music [for Parenthesis], and look back through my feelings and desires to examine what I thought and how this particular soundtrack envelops my ideas.”
The soundtrack in question is created by French composer Julien Tarride, a long-time collaborator and friend of Foniadakis. The two have worked together for over ten years on twenty different productions, with Parenthesis again being Tarride's first time Down Under. “Andonis is a wonderful collaborator, of course we are friends; but everything that's personal has to stay outside of the work. He is one of my best friends, as we are seeing each other every day for years – I'm with Andonis more than my girlfriend!” Tarride is the more reserved of the pair, and their personalities are fitting for their mediums: the outspoken and confident Foniadakis gives direction to the dancers and the production team, while Tarride is the quiet observer who frames the movement with beautiful music.
“The theme of duality [in the music] comes from reference,” Tarride explains. A 3D visual artist as well as a composer, he cites both classical music and electronically generated beats as his influences. “I've used different styles in the music for this project, and mixed them together – I've tried not to stay with one style for too long, I've had to mix them to create a contrast; and for me, this creates a story. It's like taking a trip in the music, or taking the audience on a journey. What I hope is that the audience will find their own stories in the music, and see that it is up for interpretation. Of course there is some direction that we have given, but we have just tried to guide them.”
Taking a more tangible approach to guiding the audience through the themes of contrast and duality is costume designer Tassos Sofroniou. His own working life is an example of the clash between two themes – when not designing and creating theatrical and dance costumes, he is a fashion designer and founder of the ready-to-wear label Conquistador. Like his fellow creatives, it is his first time working in Australia as well. “I'm a very big fan of Dion Lee, I absolutely love what he does,” Sofroniou volunteers as soon as I ask him if he is familiar with any Australian artists or designers. “He has a very modern take and I think he represents a lot of what Australia is about: the physicality of the body, having good health, being active and exercising; but at the same time, a very pared-down and luxurious approach to fashion that we don't usually see in Europe. Here, people seem to be a little more relaxed, but they dress fantastically. This was a big surprise for me – I thought everyone might be wearing jeans and flip-flops!”
Although it is his first time working in Australia, it is not his first time working with Foniadakis. “I had the luxury of being inspired before I started designing, while sometimes I have to start designing my costumes and wait for the [inspiration] to take place. I had no idea to expect when we got here...but I know Andonis' choreographic style very very well, so I knew I had to create something that would make it easy for the dancers to move around – because they end up doing a gazillion movements a second! With the boys, I've been a little more fluid with their shapes. Their bodies are already amazing, so I didn't want to go too decorative or too flashy. But with the girls, I went crazy. The idea was to create something that looks like a dress, but it's not. When you see it on stage, it will be a dress that looks like a body, but as they start to move it will become a body that looks like a dress.”
Given that most of the team have only spent a few weeks here in Australia creating the production, things are going swimmingly. At the Sydney Dance Company headquarters, dancers chat happily between rehearsal sessions and practice quietly alone in corridors and corners. Snapshots of work paper Instagram – costumes here, post-rehearsal selfies there. While not all of the team are able to be in Sydney for the premiere, all of them do have an enormous sense of excitement for the show they are about to debut. “I want the audience to have an experience,” Sofroniou explains. “Not only just with my work, as that's only a little part of [the production], but with everything. Andonis has the luxury to be very verbal with his choreography, and the good thing about contemporary dance is that you get to translate what you see within your own mind. It is a narrative, but when you go out of the theatre you have experienced the play. It's not just about viewing it, you have an interaction with it.”
“I want to make sure that when people go out [to see Parenthesis], it will be a night to remember. It will be a good experience, and something that will stimulate them and make them question themselves, maybe even arouse them in some ways. Yes, you will see contemporary dance choreography, and it's very on the edge, but at the same time there's a lot of beauty and fluidity. You will go, and have a full-on experience – the music, the choreography, the lights, the set design, everything is cohesive. And it will create an amazing experience for the audience.”
Book now for Louder than Words at Sydney Theatre, 11 shows only, October 4 to 18. Tickets from $45, group concessions for six people or more. Book at www.sydneytheatre.org.au/whats-on/productions/2014/louder-than-words or phone 9250 1999.