Five bright young choreographic stars take Sydney Dance Company for a spin
This year marks the fourth edition of Sydney Dance Company’s New Breed: a program giving rising choreographers – or company dancers wanting to try their hand at a more creative role – the chance to collaborate with leading creatives and have their work performed by SDC’s ensemble.
Over the last three years, the program has been a proving ground for new work and ideas – Adelaide choreographer Gabrielle Nankivell’s Helpmann-nominated ‘Wildebeest’ had its first showing as part of New Breed 2014 – and in that sense it’s quite unlike any other dance program in Sydney, stepping well outside the bounds of what you’d expect to see in any other SDC program. It’s been hit-and-miss some years, but that’s kind of the point: New Breed is the platform for experimentation, and the choreographers involved have almost all embraced that challenge.
As a complete program, this fourth iteration is the best: full of a wonderful sense of adventure, but also with the choreographic and theatrical nous to pull off an eclectic and consistently satisfying night of dance.
There’s obviously some pressure on choreographers to be the stand out of each year’s program, meaning there’s a tendency for them to throw every idea they might have onto the stage with as much force as possible. But all four works in this year’s line-up (each running 16 to 20 minutes) are cogent, distinctive and deeply thoughtful. If certain ideas or styles have been underlined a little too obviously, that’s pretty easily forgiven.
Things kick off with ‘Bell Jar’, a duet choreographed by SDC dancers Cass Mortimer Eipper and Nelson Earl, who also perform the work. Mortimer Eipper actually choreographed a short and humorous work for the first New Breed back in 2014, but ‘Bell Jar’ is full of angst and an expression of extreme psychological distress, drawing apparent inspiration from Sylvia Plath’s novel of the same name.
Using dramatic, abrupt blackouts (Verity Hampson is the lighting designer for all four works) the two men create a series of vignettes of both aggression and tenderness. There’s a constant push and pull going on between the pair, but as the piece evolves, their relationship becomes more manic as Mortimer Eipper exerts more and more control over Earl.
The parallels with Plath’s novel are pretty obscure – the overt and relentless masculine aggression sets the dance apart from its inspiration – but this is still a gripping take on mental imprisonment.
SDC dancer Petros Treklis continues this introspective theme with ‘The Art of Letting Go’, a fascinating piece about memory and our inability to forget certain events. Sam Young-Wright opens with an elegant, measured and free-flowing solo. This style soon gives way to something more fractured but equally expressive.
Not only is the choreography stylish and attractive, but the way Treklis repeats and varies certain passages of movement – as Rachmaninoff’s Cello Concerto repeats and varies its own themes – is almost hypnotic.
It’s in the final two works that things get really interesting.
Perth-based artist Tyrone Earl Lraé Robinson choreographs ‘[bio]Curious’, a boldly erotic and wryly funny work about eco-sexuaity: a sexual identity that seeks to conserve the environment by treating it as you might treat a lover, and protecting it as a matter of sexual urgency. Robinson isn’t the first local artist to find inspiration in eco-sexuality – an immersive work from Perth called Ecosexual Bathhouse has played around Australia in recent years and queer burlesque artist Betty Grumble has happily adopted the term.
Chloe Leong is at the centre of Robinson’s piece, emerging from a bathtub to reveal a flower attached to her groin. She embodies a kind of Mother Earth figure, crossed with Batman supervillain Poison Ivy. From here, she encounters Nelson Earl, a tightie-whitey-clad innocent who stumbles into this world for a rather unusual sexual awakening. The third dancer, Davide Di Giovanni, soon shows up as an unexpected servant to Leong’s Mother Earth.
The choreography itself doesn’t evolve quite as much as you might hope, but it’s genuinely and explicitly sexy, and the images Robinson creates with his dancers, musicians (L S D X O X O and Arca) and lighting designer Hampson are warm, dangerous and striking.
Melanie Lane, a freelance choreographer living and working between Berlin and Melbourne, is the most experienced choreographer of the group and makes the biggest impression with ‘WOOF’. Lane pulls together images of group action, lifted from all kinds of culture – classic dances, paintings, pop culture.
The work starts out with the ensemble, costumed in flesh colours with blackened hands, slowly moving between evocative full-group tableaus. It’s a very formal, almost ritualistic process, which eventually turns into something more kinetic and multifaceted as the group dynamic shifts.
Lane’s use of the full ensemble and the space available to her is hugely impressive. There’s good work all around this year, but this element of ‘WOOF’ certainly marks out Lane as one to watch.