I’m with Bradley Chatfield and fellow long-term Sydney Dance Company (SDC) member Wakako Asano in the coffee shop of Wharf 4/5, the arts complex at Walsh Bay that houses the SDC’s offices and rehearsal studios. With development of the neighbouring wharves in full swing, the shop is crowded with so many hard hats and strong legs you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve walked into the very latest Graeme Murphy production, a la Rumours #2 or Homelands.

Ellipse however, is not one of Murphy’s cheeky hometown portraits, it’s an abstract work, in the tradition of earlier works such as Tip or Air And Other Invisible Forces. It explores emotions, not a storyline, says Asano, and Chatfield jumps in. People can come away from contemporary dance not liking it, he adds, Because they’ve got a preconceived idea of what they think they should be seeing -“ when they should sit back and let it go. Sometimes there’s not that much to understand. It’s just an aesthetic look or a beauty.

Chatfield and Asano have been with the company for over ten years. They first met at the Australian Ballet School in Melbourne, after Asano arrived from Japan on a scholarship. A year after graduation, they both accepted offers from Murphy to join the Sydney Dance Company.

Staying with the one dance company for so long is very unusual, says Chatfield, but both he and Asano enjoy the SDC’s family atmosphere. Most of the dancers, he explains, have been with the company a long time, between six and ten years.

I think it’s got to do with how well we get along with each other, he says. We enjoy each other’s company. There are very rarely any fights, a few tiffs.

I ask if this familiarity affects performances.

You know what people are like, says Chatfield. You can tell there’s always going to be a stableness about it. Sometimes you probably think it’s too comfortable.

But it also makes for a strong team spirit.

That’s one good thing about this company, says Chatfield, we’re not treated like employees. We are the company. Everybody that has a role in this company is part of it. It’s a whole big collaboration.

Asano sees the easygoing atmosphere as part of a broader cultural phenomenon. I think because it’s an Australian company as well. It’s all the Sydney lifestyle. As a Japanese person, for me Graeme is such a typical Aussie guy.

A typical Aussie guy, but one who has spent 27 years as artistic director of Australia’s foremost contemporary dance company, and a choreographer who relishes experimentation. This time the inspiration came after hearing one of Matthew Hindson’s works on the radio and Murphy invited the young Australian composer to work with the company. In response to Hindson’s highly evocative sounds, a large single tracking light under which the dancers are to move has itself been promoted to a principal role. It’s an active element in the concept of the work, says Chatfield.

Ellipse is divided into seven different sections. Unlike a narrative-based work where just a few dancers might feature in major roles, Ellipse is offering the dancers a broader range of opportunities.

Asano gets to open Ellipse with a solo called Lament. She says Murphy likes to see her explore moods like loneliness and sadness, even through she’s not like that in real life.

Chatfield, who is renowned for his athleticism and pace, is delighted that one of the sections he is working on is quite slow. It’s a nice change, he says. Other sections are very upbeat like Technologica which is more a cowboy, hoe-down style, according to Chatfield.

Another memorable feature of Ellipse is likely to be Akira Isogawa’s costumes. Breaking away from his characteristic subtle tones and natural fibres, the costumes this time, says Chatfield, are very stretchy and full of vibrant colours.

 

Ellipse premieres at the Sydney Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House on 8 May and runs until 25 May, before touring to Canberra, Brisbane and Melbourne. Phone 9250 7777 or visit www.sydneydance.com.au for bookings. Tickets range from $29 to $65.

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