SOME of classical composer Benjamin Britten’s most famous works were made for the love of his life, tenor Peter Pears, who was his partner for 35 years.
Living in a time when homosexuality was a crime, Britten and Pears’ relationship was near impossible, making the music that it spawned all the more beautiful.
[showads ad=MREC]One of Britten’s more widely-known pieces, Les Illuminations, was inspired by the works of French poet Arthur Rimbaud.
It has been performed countless times over the years, around the world, and is providing the current inspiration for an upcoming performance presented by the Sydney Dance Company.
Sydney Dance Company artistic director Rafael Bonachela has choreographed the performance, and said it would involve a series of duets — including men dancing together, and women dancing together.
“Through my work I always try to not make gender something so stereotyped,” he said.
“It’s about love and tenderness, between men and between women, and all of the other colours.
“This work has a lot of meaning, and that kind of love, beyond sexuality, that’s always been a part of me as an artist.”
Presented in collaboration with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Australian songstress Katie Noonan is also slated to sing during the performance. Bonachela said she was the one who encouraged him to develop the piece back in 2013.
“First Katie said ‘listen to this, I love it’, and we realised it would be beautiful music to choreograph to,” he recalled.
As though providing another incentive, that same year also marked the centenary of Britten’s birth.
“It was a year celebrating the music of such an important composer, so we thought, let’s make this,” Bonachela said.
“It really has this idea of universal love. One of the songs in Les Illuminations is called Being Beauteous, and it was a declaration of love from Britten to his lover.”
Bonachela said that while two men and two women performing together in dance isn’t rare, gender and sexuality is still often stereotyped on stage.
“If you look at classical ballet for example, gender couldn’t be more stereotyped,” he said.
“In classical dance it’s the women who are courted and partnered across the stage by the men. The woman is represented as fragile and delicate.
“I think it’s about gender roles — women can be strong, women can be tough, and men can be delicate and soft.”
With a dance career spanning more than two decades, Bonachela got his start in London’s Rambert Dance Academy.
He remained a dancer at the academy up until 2006, when he decided to focus on the rise of his career as a choreographer.
He has since worked with artists such as Kylie Minogue and Tina Turner, and has been commissioned to create works for companies around the world.
Bonachela said gender and sexuality has always been present in his works, to various extents.
“It’s something I didn’t think about consciously, but it’s definitely been spoken about,” he said.
“That’s what makes this production special. The work was composed by such an iconic gay composer, using the poems of a famous, French gay poet.”
The importance of subverting expectations around gender and sexuality through art isn’t lost on Bonachela.
“I mean, we live in a country where gay people can’t even get married, like what planet is this?” he said.
“I’m not trying to be political, but we do live in an interesting time.”
Les Illuminations will be performed as part of Triptych in Sydney, which will combine the piece inspired by Rimbaud along with another piece by Britten called Simple Symphony, also choreographed by Bonachela.
The program was initially performed in a Sydney Opera House studio back in 2013, but has now come back for an exclusive Sydney season.
Melbourne will also play host to a performance of Les Illuminations as part of Illuminated, a trio of dance pieces set to not only Britten’s famous piece, but also Vivaldi and Bach.
When asked whether dance is a powerful way to express gender and sexuality, Bonachela was quick to agree. Seeing art in all its forms as a way to provide important messages to society, he said that sometimes smaller gestures had the biggest impact.
“We can only change things through our actions,” he said.
“And those actions can be very small or very big.
“The fact that through our work we don’t conform to the stereotypes, or play by the rules, means that it might get the people seeing the performance talking afterwards.
“And this is important because we should be talking about it.”
Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay
Dates: 12 shows only, September 25 to October 10
Tickets: From $45
Venue: State Theatre, Melbourne
Dates: One show only, Sunday, October 25
Tickets: From $59
**This article was first published in the October edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.