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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 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
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
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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