Sydney Dance Company

Graeme Murphy's "Ellipse"

Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House, Australia

Choreography and Concept   GRAEME MURPHY
Creative Associate   JANET VERNON

May 8, 2002
By Jennifer Leake

“An Ellipse keeps on going, it never finds an end...and this [work] won’t either.” (Graeme Murphy)

Sydney Dance Company (SDC) premiered Graeme Murphy’s newest work Ellipse in the Opera Theatre of Sydney Opera House last night (8 May ’02) to a full house of devoted Sydney-based fans and curious sponsors and press representatives. The inspiration for Ellipse came when Murphy heard Matthew Hindson’s music on the radio. He called the station, found out the name of the composer and promptly made contact with Hindson. Their creative marriage was consummated months later. “Matthew’s music is the bed on which I romp [choreographically],” Murphy told his distinguished guests (including SDC’s sponsors) and press at the post performance reception.

Ellipse was a suite of dances, each with a different tone, yet held together by Murphy’s brilliant sense of humour, astute musicality and beautiful use of his dancers – who were pushed to their full capacity. The lyrical passages of music were often used for gentle, flowing partnerships and trios and the unpredictable explosions of sound underlined Murphy’s penchant for the spectacular…the quirky.

The set was a simple circular pipe surrounding the space in which the action took place. Occasionally a dancer ventured out of this ellipse provocatively, before returning to the centre of the action. The costumes couldn’t have been more unlike the minimalist set and lighting.

Costume designer Akira Isogawa, with whom Murphy collaborates regularly, wrapped the dancers in lengths of cloth that either hung as fringe on waistbands or enveloped their bodies with varying colours, adding pounds to the dancers lithesome physiques. Underneath the layers of cloth the dancers wore conspicuous white G-strings. All of this meant the elongated lines of the dancers’ extensions got lost in the fuss. But although the costumes aren’t my cup of tea some might say they mirror the varying shades in the music and Murphy’s eclectic choreography. Personally, I would prefer slicker costumes, in keeping with the promotional material used to publicise Ellipse.

Damien Cooper deserves to be congratulated for his magical lighting. Its minimalism complimented the set and gave viewers the sense it belonged as an integral part of the action. One light dangled over the stage throughout the piece, moving up, down and around to focus on the performers. It left a warm, soft glow on the outer edges of the space where the set hovered. Sometimes a red, egg-shaped light moved across the stage and disappeared into that secret place where stage lights create a scene but are not seen.

Ellipse definitely deserves a look. Murphy’s exemplary use of the varying landscape of Hindson’s music deserves accolade, as does the extraordinary effort the dancers put into making the 60-minute show of pure ebb and flow devoid of any low points. My only complaint when it comes to the choreography is: Murphy could have tried harder to abandon some of the vaudeville-like characteristics that seem a hangover from his last work Tivoli to experiment more with the endless limitations of his dancers’ bodies. I would also like to see him use other choreographic tools besides the canon to build tension in a group scene, as he’s exhausted this avenue over the years.


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Edited by Marie.

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