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Flash Review 2, 7-7: Shady Business
Murphy Gives 'Dorian' another Dance

By Chloe Smethurst
Copyright 2004 Chloe Smethurst

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MELBOURNE -- In his latest creation for the Sydney Dance Company, "Shades of Gray," Graeme Murphy takes narrative inspiration from Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray." In a shrewd choreographic move, he transplants Dorian into the glittering dance world of the last few decades of the last century, exploring the corrupting nature of fame, vanity and the quest for eternal beauty, as we witness Dorian and his companions degenerate into hellish depths of depravity.

Seen at the Victorian Arts Centre this past Friday, "Shades of Gray" was marked by extraordinary performances, clearly elucidated themes and concepts and some excellent choreography. Joshua Consadine was stunning in the title role, revealing himself as an amazingly graceful dancer with strong characterization skills. He embodied the arrogance and immorality of Dorian, yet allowed us to glimpse his weaker moments as well.

Murphy cleverly integrates the original plot with characters based on real-life personalities of the epoch, such as Andy Warhol, Rudolf Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn and the tragic figure of Edie Sedgwick. The combination of period-defining costumes and carefully chosen music creates a convincing setting for the piece. Also inserted were three 'Shades' who emerge from the arcane portrait, representing different stages of Dorian's demise, each worse than the last. Tracey Carrodus was almost too convincing as a shrunken, semi-decomposed dancing spectre, while Jason Wilcock was suitably freakish in his possessed, demonic incarnation.

Another successful technique was Murphy's integration of performances within the performance, allowing us to follow the progression of time through the developments in music and choreography of the ballets that Dorian stars in. These range from a very classical "Narcissus" through various permutations of dance in the '70s and '80s, and end with a modern abstract ballet straight out of the '90s.

"Shades of Gray" does not shrink from representing the darker moments of those heydays, including depictions of drug abuse and deviant sexual encounters and the AIDS epidemic and its ultimate and ongoing toll. Whilst drug abuse and sexual perversity can be seamy topics, Murphy doesn't present anything explicitly raunchy, settling instead for slightly toned-down sequences which merely hint at what is being depicted.

As per usual for the Sydney Dance Company, the entire company was well-rehearsed and performed masterfully throughout. In particular, Wakako Asano convincingly portrayed the painful demise of the aging Ballerina, and the stunning Katherine Griffiths was magnificent as the Rising Star.

The concepts in "Shades of Gray" were well developed and there were moments of brilliance throughout the piece, but a few rough edges and awkward sequences still need to be ironed out for this piece to take its place among Murphy's better creations.

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