Thirty years is a long time nowadays to work for one company -“ and for a choreographer to keep producing new work. Graeme Murphy in that time has produced 51 original dance works, and that’s just those for his own Sydney Dance Company.
With that output it’s surprising Murphy didn’t follow the fashion of choreographers with big egos and name the company after himself.
It all started with a naughty work Murphy did for The Australian Ballet back in 1976 when an Australian choreographer was a contradiction in terms. Glimpses, a witty homage to the lusty images of our own Norman Lindsay, got Murphy the job running Sydney’s new dance company.
It is here revived in this triple bill and features many of Murphy’s signature dance elements.
He’s a master storyteller, focusing often on an individual at odds with a group, with a delight in visual gags, cheeky performers and a frank sexuality. No wonder Sydney -“ especially queer Sydney -“ mostly adores him.
With two (drag) dames of Victorian morality lured into a distinctively Australian bushland by Murphy’s nymphs and satyrs, Glimpses is now not so naughty but, 30 years on, still impressive in its wit and Australian charm.
The Director’s Cut is a new work in which Murphy has reworked some of these familiar dance motifs in his work.
However, a welcome dark psychology pervades here, as plucky female dancers leap onto the shoulders of the retreating men and are shrugged away, and the slight boyish figure of Reed Luplau is also shunned.
Later Reed bleeds erotically across his naked torso and dances a magnificent duet with long-time Murphy dancer Bradley Chatfield.
As with most Murphy choreography, the magic alternates with plod when his linear storytelling occasionally loses inspiration.
But his genius for brilliant Australian collaborations is here again on show with Paul Healy’s music and the over-arching floating parachute from set designer Vince Frost.
Similarly Murphy does well to leave the third work to fellow choreographer Narelle Benjamin.
Her yoga-inspired Gossamer blends her dancers beautifully with the images of dancers bubbling in water and blowing in the wind, abstractions projected onto a screen behind the dancers and also caught on a scrim in front of them.
The choreography is both engaging and meditative, but enhanced further by excellent staging -“ which for 30 years now has been a virtue of Murphy’s collaborations. This triple bill shows why he is worth honouring.
The Director’s Cut is on now at the Sydney Opera House.