My Music with Rafael Bonachela
The Artistic Director of Sydney Dance Company recalls his childhood dislike of flamenco, his discovery of classical music and his desire to use live musicians as often as he can.
By Rafael Bonachela with Limelight Magazine on 22 May, 2023
My father was obsessed with flamenco. He was born in Southern Spain but moved to Barcelona. My mum was born in Barcelona, but her family was also from the South. She loved singing Mexican songs; I don’t know why, but that was her thing. As a child, I hated flamenco! Madonna and Michael Jackson were releasing pop music at the time, but all my father wanted to play was flamenco, which was extremely traditional. It wasn’t until much later, after I’d moved away from Spain, that I started to appreciate Spanish flamenco music.
I grew up in La Garriga near Barcelona. When I was 10, I heard that the church of my town was going to start a choir, so I auditioned and I got in. My parents were not into religion at all, and were a bit like, “Hmm, I hope he doesn’t get brainwashed by the church”. But it was free musical education, so they let me [join]. For five years,
I learned this gorgeous choral music, which was the closest thing to classical music that I knew then.
When I was 17, I got my first job with a dance company in Barcelona. One of the dances I had to learn was [choreographed] to a string quartet by Bartók, and I was like, “Wow!” In 1989, we toured to Budapest. It was the year that Hungary stopped being a communist country and opened up its borders. They were selling classical music records that were so cheap, I spent a whole week’s wages on them. I didn’t really know what I was buying, but I suddenly discovered this whole classical world. I still have these records; my mum’s got them at home.
When I went to London and joined Rambert [Dance Company], an orchestra called London Music would tour with us. There was always this rule that if the piece could be played live, then it should be played live. I became totally addicted to that. It is now part of what I do as much as I can. About once a year, we manage to include an element of live music. That always makes me extremely happy, because there’s an electricity and an extra layer of excitement that live music [brings to] dance.
After I left Rambert, I became an Artist in Residence at the Southbank Centre. The London Sinfonietta was a resident ensemble. Gillian Moore was the Artistic Director at the time and became one of my mentors. Because I was always so fascinated by music and wanted to start my own company, the Bonachela Dance Company, she gave me a list of composers. She said she thought I would really respond to the music of Jean-Philippe Rameau, the Baroque composer. When I joined Sydney Dance Company and met with Richard Tognetti to discuss a possible collaboration with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, one of the first names he suggested was Rameau, so there have always been people who have opened up new avenues for me.
I’m always listening to music for my work. Interestingly, given how I felt about flamenco as a child, the next piece I’m making is a Spanish work called Somos. It will feature songs by Spanish and Mexican singers. Unless I change my mind, they are all female. One of them is a black Spanish flamenco singer called Buika, who is amazing. She has this incredible, deep voice. Another is called Rosalía, who has sort of twisted flamenco and is becoming huge internationally. The music choice is as Latin as you could get.
Don’t miss the strictly limited season of Up Close: Somos in our Neilson Studio at Sydney Dance Company premiering from 1-12 November.