Jennifer Leake: After a quarter of a century of dance
making, do you ever feel like your creativity has dried-up?
Graeme Murphy: My productivity
is very high. I've done more than 40 works in the last 24 years and
over half of them have been full-length works. One year, recently, I
didn't do a new work in Sydney and the press rode me ragged. I thought,
Excuse me I am not a sausage machine; I need to want to do new
Where do you keep finding ideas for new dances?
From the company my stable of dancers now is wildly inspiring!
It's great, I don't have to panic and ask, Do I have the right
people to realize my dreams? I actually build my dreams around
the dancers I've got in my company. I have enough material among the
ranks to fuel my wildest dreams and ideas. And currently, there are
four to five new works in the pipeline for upcoming celebrations such
as the Sydney 2000 Olympics, Australian Federation, my 50th Birthday,
and Sydney Dance Company's 25th Anniversary.
You became Artistic Director/Choreographer of Sydney
Dance Company (SDC), then the New South Wales Dance Company, in 1976.
Australia has seen you struggle to keep your company funded in an economic
environment that, at times, has little room for artists. How free are
you from financial worries today?
Sydney is a very good market for us we have a very strong
following here. We do up to 20 weeks a year in this comparatively tiny
city. Normally our season is seven weeks in the Drama Theatre and four
weeks in the Opera Theater. We usually add on to that a choreographic
workshop and a season in another venue. We also tour nationally and
Does your role allow you to create whatever you wish,
whenever the impulse drives you?
I'm very conscious of what I do. Mostly, I'm in the very enviable
position that no one dictates what I do. I can do the work that I want
to do next. The only thing that might influence me is the thought that
My God, I have to make this work at the Box Office now the Golden
Era of funding has gone.
Why do you think SDC members, currently 17, tend to
stay in the company for years?
I look at the dancers and I get the inspiration for the work from
them. This year (1999 season) with the more lyrical/less narrative work,
Air and Other Invisible Forces, I really just wanted to challenge
the dancers, to push them. I think that's how you keep dancers happy,
by developing them at the right time. Not too soon. I always figure
I have this tree and there's always some green fruit that's not ready
to pick or blossoms that are ready to flower; there are always some
ready to drop off too.
Your choreography is considered
contemporary but it obviously requires dancers to be trained in classical
ballet. What is it you look for when choosing SDC members?
I'm in the position to pick the cream of the crop. There's a line
of dancers waiting to get into Sydney Dance Company. I'm not interested
in a group of people with some sort of incredible homogeny, a group
that can do the movement I want. I'm interested in people who can take
the movement somewhere. I feel this is a company of creators. It's not
a company of exponents of my style. We give equally in the creative
process and I'm not afraid to ask their commitment towards developing
something. Some are less giving, others are more reticent and you actually
have to create for them. Others have within them the next step.
Is it something other than coincidence that many former
SDC members also become dance-makers? For instance, Gideon Obarzanek
(Chunky Move Expressions),
Stephen Page (Bangarra
Dance Theater) and Kim Walker (Flying Fruit Fly Circus) have all
gone on to create for their own troupes.
SDC has recycled more dancers than I care to name, whether they've
come in as massage therapists, ballet masters or mistresses, secretaries,
or whatever. That has been a part of our history. The recycling of dancers
as choreographers is incredibly prevalent in this company.
You are well known for your successful collaborations.
What's so fulfilling about co-creating with other artists?
I always regretted that as a dancer I was just a passive tool for
a choreographer, because I was always doing repertory. No one was creating
and I always wanted to be created on.
Your collaborators include musicians, set designers
and costume designers. Can you explain how these partnerships enrich
SDC has a great reputation for putting live music on stage. We are
one of the few contemporary companies that believe live music
is essential. This may be part of our popularity in America. We use
a lot of commissioned scores. Some of those scores are around the concert
halls long after we've commissioned them and that's very satisfying.
We can't afford big symphonies but we commission works that sound rich
and symphonic because of the nature of the instrumentation and the people
we work with. That makes it really exciting for the dancers who have
become better musicians, because often their services are enlisted as
musicians. They are learning new skills all the time.
Australian contemporary composer, Carl Vine, was a
20-year-old unknown when you commissioned him to compose for your first
full-length piece, titled Poppy, in 1978. Will there be another
Murphy-Vine project in the near future?
Yes, Carl Vine stuck around. He's now number one composer for choreography.
I'll be working again with him this year. I'm bringing a new work, a
major collaboration with a brand new Vine score to the Olympic Arts
Festival in Sydney. It's a piece called Mythologia that delves
into the Greek myths. It's a massive work that places a very large choir
Will SDC's presence at this year's Olympic Arts Festival
add international fame to the company's good fortune?
I think the Olympics could help us reach more people. I don't think
people we'll miss the fact that SDC is way up there and that our profile
is high. I'm wildly optimistic, but I never look at the millennium or
the Olympics as a pinnacle; I see the future as an ongoing battle. If
the year 2000 can help us move into the future, that's fine, but I am
afraid that people see it as a full stop and that one can take a big
breath afterwards you can't.
Thank you, Graeme. Chookas* for your upcoming premiere.
SDC will premiere "Mythologia"
in Sydney this August. The company will present American audiences with
"Air and Other Invisible Forces" in November and December
this year (2000).
* "Chookas" is the word Australian
dancers use for "Good luck." I don't profess to know how to
spell it, so please forgive me if I'm wrong (all of you Australian readers).
(Copyright: Jennifer Leake)
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Edited by Azlan