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Flash Review 3, 12-9: Something Lacking
Dancers' Choreography Falls Short for Sydney Dance Company

By Suzanne Davidson
Copyright 2003 Suzanne Davidson

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SYDNEY -- Most of Sydney's dance world turned out last month at the Parade Theatre to see the Sydney Dance Company perform four new works, all by dancers of the company. SDCo artistic director Graeme Murphy and his partner, associate artistic director Janet Vernon, had returned from their annual leave, and stood in the foyer as the audience arrived, basking in the general atmosphere of support for the dancers.

It is some time since I have sat in on a whole evening of new choreography, so I was looking forward to this program, entitled "Random Play," with some excitement. I was particularly eager to see the set and costume designs by students of the National Institute of Dramatic Art, as well as to possibly hearing some interesting new scores.

On curtain up, Kim Scott and Xanthe Heubel's stage design for Wakako Asano's "Know End" looked beautiful enough to elicit a spontaneous burst of applause. It was nothing wildly original -- rather reminiscent of early Kylian sets -- but it looked slick and professional, and it worked . So far, so good. Andrea Briody is not one of SDCo's best-known dancers, so it was good to watch her beautifully phrased performance of a rather long solo. Ditto the duo that followed, then another solo, another duo and a pas de deux. Michael Askill's original score suited Asano's theme, which was inspired by the issue of how we can deal with problems by thinking them through. The choreography is highly concentrated and manages to achieve total stillness in the midst of the most energetic movement; something I feel could only have been created by a Japanese mind. Despite the beautiful performance it was given, I am not convinced that its subject is suited to interpretation in dance.

In Gavin Mitford's "Emotor," Aphex Twin's combination of piano and words over a kind of general noise had me fascinated for a while. However, after the first impact of the score had worn off, its constant repetition became tiresome. Mitford has a facility for moving his dancers around the stage, and this was well supported by Christopher Barlow's imagery and Jason Lam's video footage. However, choreographically I didn't find this work interesting. There was one amazing solo, danced by Chylie Cooper, but I have a feeling that it was the performance rather than the choreography that held me riveted. Cooper is an extraordinary artist, to whom one's eye moves as soon as she steps onto the stage.

"Prelude," the opening sequence of Simon Turner's "Urst," was original and interesting. It used the dancers, Angela Norris's original score, and Mark Campbell's set to great advantage. Cooper, Cassandra Grove and Katherine Griffiths positioned on what looked like steep shafts of light, and moving downwards very slowly, then back up, then downwards again, continuing for some time. The excellent lighting by, presumably, Adrian Steritt, who is credited as lighting designer for the whole program supported the whole ambiance ideally.

The solo, aptly sub-titled "Meditation," was a tightly-controlled piece of choreography performed with great precision and sensitivity by Cooper. We were still "hangin' in there" with Turner. The next movement, "Mirror Image," was less interesting, though Griffiths and Shane Placentino gave it their all. The following section, "Undecided," was a kind of old-fashioned adagio act for Katie Ripley, Gavin Mitford and Christopher Sheriff. I can't imagine why Turner decided to choreograph the last movement, "Getting There." It didn't get anywhere and just made the whole ballet too long.

In Josef Brown's "Shifted," the curtain rose to reveal what at first glance looked a bit like a humidicrib for a prematurely born baby, situated center stage, with tiny Tracey Carrodus ensconced in it. During the first solo, danced by Griffiths and backed by the whole cast, Carrodus periodically moved slightly, as if to get up, before subsiding again. It was very creepy, and I didn't manage to work out its meaning, either in this movement or later, in the movement mysteriously called "Waiting"; nor in the few minutes of the one called "Delta Wave 4," described as a "solo" for Carrodus comprising the dancers squashed into the humidicrib, with Carrodus wobbling unsteadily outside it -- fragile and off-balance, a kind of nightmarish figure from outer space, gone very wrong.

Throughout this work I felt that I was missing something that would give it meaning. I felt that somehow I should know what was going on, or even more importantly, why it was going on, but I couldn't work it out. Whilst there was a great deal going on, none of it seemed to mean anything in particular, despite the meaningful sub-titles like "In Time," "Walking," "Fear," "Waiting," "Sex 1," "Sex 2," "Love," and several "Delta Wave"'s. I suddenly knew how people feel who, after their first experience of a dance performance, say that they "don't understand," and as a result are alienated from a wonderful art form, sometimes forever.

Having said all the above, I nevertheless believe that Random Play was worth undertaking, and worth seeing, because it provided a platform for in some cases untried creative artists, without whose efforts this art form couldn't stay alive.

Brett Morgan, the acting artistic director of SDCo during Murphy's just-completed leave, was credited as project coordinator for Random Play, Perhaps he could have provided a little more guidance to these young choreographers, who obviously were not familiar with Doris Humphrey's maxim, "Choreography is too long." On the other hand, young people, especially young creative people, don't always react well to "guidance," as I well remember from those early days of this company when I was building it up from nothing.

After these perhaps negative sounding comments, I would still like to say that the dancing was first-rate, both in technique and artistry, and a pleasure to watch for its own sake.

From my personal point of view, I found the designers' work more interesting on the whole than the choreography, and hope that some of these talented young design students will find some commissions forthcoming as a result of their involvement in this program.

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