Sunday, 3 June 2018

Australian Ballet Murphy

The amazing 50-year association of the Australian Ballet with national treasure and Australian living legend Graeme Murphy is celebrated in the new mixed programme, Murphy.we see only a fraction of Murphy’s huge creativity, but it showcases his incredible genius in some marvellous pieces. The programme featured music by Australian composers Carl Vine, Michael Askill and Matthew Hindson, mostly specially commissioned, and designs by Kristian Fredrikson, Roger Kirk, Akira Isogawa and Leon Krasenstein .Murphy’s astonishing, breathtaking and at times seemingly almost impossible choreography as always dazzles. Ensembles become pulsating spirals or dynamic ripples and there are some extraordinary lifts and balances .
We mostly see selections from his 30 years with Sydney Dance Company (Grand, Air and Other Invisible Forces , Ellipse etc ) with two works ( Sheherazade and Firebird) performed in full.The first half runs for 90 minutes and could perhaps be a bit draining as there is so much packed into it.There are no segments from for instance Gallery, Beyond Twelve, Swan Lake or Nutcracker which Murphy created for the Australian Ballet and no segments from say Poppy , Some Rooms, Nearly Beloved, Boxes , After Venice or Daphnis and Chloe for example created for Sydney Dance and lovingly remembered by long time Sydney Dance fans .
The programme opens with a short film by Phillipe Charluet in which Murphy declares that he is dedicated to finding, in every member of the company, “a moment of truth” that allows them to be the artist they aspire to be, and to let them fly.
We then see various photos of Murphy himself over the years, starting in the company’s corps de ballet, putting together his first choreographic work, leading the Sydney Dance Company and then returning again full circle to his first home at the Ballet. And of course mention is made throughout of his muse, associate and wife Janet Vernon whose presence hovers in the choreography .
We are first treated to a glittering sequence from The Silver Rose commissioned by the Bayerisches Staatsballet in 2005 – which I saw in Munich - and later performed by the Australian Ballet - with Amber Scott as the Marschallin, forced to confront aging and nightmare figures. The tilting bed is trademark Murphy ( think Poppy for example) and there is a lush languid pas de deux with Callum Linnane as Octavian , with fluid lifts.
Then a swooping , flowing trio from Air and Other Invisible Forces ( 1999) , full of pantherine leaps and a sculptural line , followed by a striking ,pulsating hypnotic pas de deux ( Sharni Spencer and Christopher Rodgers-Wilson) and exploiting the softly billowing set .
Sheherazade (1979) is one of two works presented in full.Lush exotic and slinky in its Klimt like costumes against a silver background and featuring mezzo soprano Victoria Lambourn. Signature Murphy snippets of choreography include the whirling hands/arms.
A playful quartet from Ellipse (2002) follows, full of vibrant energy.The music was full of insistent rhythms – listen carefully for the dijeridoo. The quartet has a hoe-down atmosphere similar perhaps to works like de Mille’s Rodeo , with thigh slapping and yee-haas .
The finals section before interval was from Grand ( 2005) with Scott Davie live on piano ( which was shifted around ) and stunning black ruffled dresses for the women. It began with a short filmed segment of Wakako Asano unfolding the set . Some of the work was haunting and intense ,some joyous .You could see allusions to Murphy’s Swan Lake in some of the choreography for the women and also perhaps Nijinska’s Les Noces , not forgetting Murphy’s After Venice and Nearly Beloved and the ‘Murphy walk’.There is very tight ensemble formation work.

There is a sinuous yearning stretching mesmerizing pas de deux for two dancers in white, a slinky quartet, a teasing duo and the final section is sort of an affectionate spoof of traditional classical ballet with the dancers in beige leggings and white tops with musical notations and at one point teasingly playing ‘ Chopsticks’ .
After interval came Firebird( 2009) in its entirety , another work Murphy created especially for the Australian Ballet . The choreography is dazzling, individually the production elements are tremendous but I am afraid that as on previous viewings I was a bit disappointed.
In this version there are many references to the original Ballets Russes version by Fokine and Murphy generally tells a similar tale. Jade Wood as the Firebird was sensational and her red costume terrific. There is lots of fiddly spiky fast footwork in her opening solo and throughout the choreography is very demanding. The Firebird is glittering , fluttering darting and other worldly and simultaneously strong and powerful yet startled when she encounters Ivan Tsarevich ( splendidly danced by Jarryd Madden ) .
Kostchei (Shaun Andrews) was wily, evil and menacing in his lizard like costume.
There was some very strong ensemble work for the enslaved and the egg design was interesting. The idea of having the tall, beautiful, elegant Tsarevna ( Valerie Tereshchenko) trapped in a gnarled , twisted wooden cage that the Tsarevich has
to free her from is great but perhaps confusing . And why the sudden change at the end to have the Tsarevna and Tsarevich ‘ nude’ in skin coloured leotards and Kostchei as a tempting evil serpent in Eden for the finale ? A dramatic idea that doesn’t quite work, sorry.
Overall a splendid evening marvellously danced and a treat for long time Murphy fans as well as a great introduction to those unfamiliar with his work.
Running time – roughly two and a half hours including one interval
The Australian Ballet in Murphy was at the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Ope

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