Dance, Reviews, Stage

SDC's New Breed (Carriageworks, Sydney)

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The foundations of Neil Balnaves and Phillip Keir are each notable for the ground-breaking support they give to contemporary dance programs. Thankfully some patrons want to support dance beyond just the finery of the Australian Ballet.
Supported by the Balnaves Foundation, New Breed is again displaying four new choreographers given the cavernous space of Sydney’s Carriageworks and the chance to make something special with the Sydney Dance Company.
Beyond access to these highly creative dancers, the offer from artistic director Rafael Bonachela incudes the company’s considerable production resources, and its dedicated audiences. New Breed, in its second year, is already near sold out.
Its appeal is surely in the parade of diverse, sometimes madly imaginative works; short works which push boundaries but are defined, usually, by one clear idea or narrative.
The shortest work is by SDC dancer Bernhard Knauer, who is classically trained and was raised in Dresden. Derived is focused on a double bass and cello score composed by his father, Jurgen, and performed by his brother, Martin.   In sharp squares of light (from Matthew Marshall), one, two or three figures dance with an urgency which builds to distortion.
They flex and undulate, swinging their gestures outwards with increasing wildness, but remaining within that classical square. Derived is a short and sharp entrée. Interestingly, Knauer performed in a not dissimilar duo staged last year by another New Breeder.
Then with the longer, Conform, Kristina Chan and her eight all-male dancers took full possession of the wide Carriageworks space. To a synthesised, punctuated soundscape from James Brown, the dancers were charged to show the forces now pressuring modern man — the pack mentality, the dominating force to conform, the group versus the individual.
Chan is an experienced choreographer, winner of a Helpmann and two Australian Dance Awards, and Conform has engaging dramatic highlights. The eight figures sag very slowly under what seems like a crackling old record, or are spun from their necks, down through their bodies, by some outside force. Being a bloke, it seems, is a lonely experience.
A marching male line cross-crossing the stage crashes through individuals and then splinters themselves into confusion. Dancer Richard Cilli is abandoned to a lyrical writhing until finally, in a moving climax, each dancer quietly, slowly, consecutively, replaces his body shape on the floor.
Two men lean against each other, only just managing, with deliberate minimal contact, to hold each other up. The image itself encapsulates Chan’s Conform, a work of strong images but between them, longer sagging moments calling out for a stronger kinetic drive.
Queenslander and SDC dancer Fiona Jopp then makes a welcome leap into buffoonery with her first time choreographic work, So Much, Doesn’t Matter. It’s a parody, almost an historic masque, around the ancient song Greensleaves, which is so old that even Shakespeare mocked it — to say nothing of Mr Whippy.
Jopp appears to tear away our own memories and innocence associated with the song. A woman works through a teasing chorus, seducing and enfolding each of them out of their long unisex dresses. Elsewhere, the dancers play tag games, copying each other’s exaggerated movements like in the schoolyard. An Elizabethan jester is in the sidelines and meanwhile Leonard Cohen drawls through his version of Greensleaves, amongst others.
Through these games, one wonders at Jopp’s intention and daydream at the creative agility of her dancers, who commit so dramatically through what seems a bit silly. Jopp’s appeal though in this show is her theatrical surprise and her witty mix of courtly style and vernacular fun.
Daniel Riley is an interesting fourth choice given his considerable experience as a dancer with Bangarra, most recently in its revival of Ochres, as well as his choreographic experience there, notably with a gritty, urban, all-male dance work called Scar. Here he’s a counterpoint to that and to Chan’s Conform, by working only with the female SDC dancers.
Reign (pictured above) focuses on a reigning powerful woman (Janessa Dufty) who is brought down by the clan. They’re a group of women dressed in rough knit white tunics, their hair ghosted white, and advancing across the stage (under Marshall’s effective blue lighting) looking alarmingly like zombies. No wonder Dufty scrambles to sweep up and sit atop her pile of orange seeds.
The vision of these dancers mixing contemporary and indigenous techniques, their bodies more grounded and their limbs more splayed than usual, is evocative. A long chorus line, as each sways out sideways, may lack Broadway precision but makes up for it in attack and dramatic story-telling. And Reign offers a compelling score mixing Prokofiev with Nick Thayer.
New Breed has grown quickly in reputation. These works by barely emerging choreographers premiered not this week in Sydney but last month at Germany’s Festspiele Ludwigshafen dance festival — presented with the SDC’s recent triple bill Triptych.  And a stand-out choreographer from New Breed’s inaugural season last year, Adelaide’s Gabrielle Nankivell with her fanciful Wildebeest, was recently awarded the 2015 Tanja Liedtke Fellowship. Wildebeest is also to feature in the SDC mainstage double bill, Untamed, in October, partnered with a new Bonachela work. A good investment can go a long way.
[box]New Breed is at Carriageworks until December 12.[/box]

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