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Sydney Dance Company just announced big plans for its 50th anniversary

Sydney Dance Company 2019 season supplied
Photograph: Pedro Greig

Next year marks a milestone for one of the city’s best-loved cultural institutions. Sydney Dance Company is celebrating 50 years of bringing contemporary dance to the people of Sydney and helping to evolve the artform.

There’ll be events celebrating the company’s birthday scattered throughout the year, but it’s the mainstage program where the biggest things are happening. Next year’s line-up is all about looking back at a legacy – and bringing back some of the audience’s favourite dancers – with one eye firmly on the future.

“I have chosen to celebrate what is a very important milestone by commissioning a range of Australian voices,” Sydney Dance Company artistic director Rafael Bonachela says. “It’s a tribute, in a way, to the extraordinary investment that Sydney Dance Company has made to the Australian cultural landscape for five decades.”

The company kicks off its Sydney season with a triple bill of works by Bonachela, Gabrielle Nankivell and Melanie Lane (Mar 26-Apr 13). Bonachela is premiering a new work for five dancers called ‘Cinco’, with a score by Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera and costumes by fashion designer Bianca Spender. Nankivell is premiering a new work called ‘Neon Aether’, while Lane’s ‘WOOF’, the standout of last year’s New Breed program, is getting a mainstage showing.

The celebration continues with a double bill by Bonachela and Gideon Obarzanek (Nov 2-9). Bonachela’s 2010 work 6 Breaths is making its return after touring to New York, London, Barcelona and the Venice Biennale. But it’s Obarzanek’s work, Us 50, that’s at the centre of this 50th anniversary season. It will be performed by 50 performers, including the current company of dancers alongside former dancers and members of the Sydney Dance Company community.

Photograph: Pedro Greig

“Dancers, for me, are the soul of what a company is,” Bonachela says. “They are the ones on stage, they are the ones that the audience connects with and sees. For 50 years audiences have always had dancers that they’ve followed, that they’ve been able to enjoy and to connect with.

“It was sort of a crazy idea: wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could get some alumni – some ex-dancers that people have loved – onstage with the company right now? That was the first seed. And then I was talking to Gideon, because he is himself an alumni and used to be a dancer in the company, and he said to me, ‘what about if we also use and ask audience members to be part of the work?’”

The company’s Sydney season wraps up with its annual New Breed program for adventurous and up-and-coming choreographers at Carriageworks (Nov 28-Dec 7).

Sydney Dance Company history – in a nutshell

1969-1975: The company was launched as a touring dance education outfit called Ballet in a Nutshell. Artistic director Suzanne Musitz would drive the dancers from school to school as they taught the fundamentals of dance. But as the company realised they weren’t attracting many boys, they decided to change their name to something a little more masculine: Athletes and Dancers. The company later changed its name to Dance Company NSW.

1975-76: Dutch choreographer Jaap Flier took over as artistic director.

1976: Graeme Murphy became artistic director, a position he would hold for 30 years.

1979: Murphy, and his wife and creative partner Janet Vernon, changed the name of the company to Sydney Dance Company.

1983: Sydney Dance Company premiered Murphy’s Some Rooms, one of the company’s most celebrated and performed works. It had four sell-out seasons at the Sydney Opera House, toured internationally, and helped to define the company’s style.

1985: The company became a resident at the Wharf with its own purpose-built studios.

2007: German choreographer Tanja Liedtke was announced as artistic director, but just months after her appointment was killed in a traffic accident.

2009: Bonachela, who had previously choreographed for the company, took over as artistic director.

Check out our hit-list of the best upcoming dance in Sydney.