Graeme MurphyNot often does a dance maestro get to see his favourite pieces performed once they’ve had their season. But Graeme Murphy, one of Australian dance’s most esteemed practitioners, will get to see a couple of his ‘favourite children’ come home and, what’s more, this will happen in the inaugural performance of new dance company, Mod Dance Company.

Murphy, now Chief Patron of Mod, exhibits the proud excitement of a new father. “I didn’t think I would ever see them again.” he says. “I’m going ‘wow!’ I look and I go ‘gosh, that’s something that I thought would never happen!’”

Since retiring from the role of Sydney Dance Company’s Artistic Director, a position he held for 30 years, Murphy has been freelancing his skills. “I’m just the choreographer,” he maintains in reference to his new role with Mod. It is somewhat disarming to hear Murphy describe himself as ‘just the choreographer’. He is, after all, a recipient of the Australian Dance Awards Lifetime Achievement Award. “I’ve got a body of work that is huge; 30 years of a repertoire. Now I am a happy choreographer – without the pain of being the artistic director.”

Murphy’s intensely percussive works, Synergy and Free Radicals, both created during the 90s while he was parenting the Sydney Dance Company and highly successful at the time, have been melded to form Suite Synergy, which will premiere at Melbourne’s State Theatre in March. Murphy says the “sum of the two works is much more ‘impactful’ than each individual piece. The idea was to pick the eyes out, put the strongest part of these two works together.”

This new production is yet another venture shared by Murphy and Brett Morgan, Artistic Director of Mod. Morgan took over the SDC in a caretaker role after Murphy’s retirement; he and Murphy have regularly worked closely together over the years. “Brett always said ‘There’s life in these works,’” explains Murphy. “That they deserve to have another visit. Those works have been done and they were so specific to individuals within the company. Each work stood on its own feet. Brett’s been instrumental with marrying the two works, the humour, the high peaks; he had to find the strength to put them together. It’s a potent mix; a new design; it’s a very different, powerful piece.”

Murphy adds, “probably comes with a more objective eye than I do. He has a great sense of theatricality and is incredibly respectful of the works.”

Murphy is nigh evangelical about Mod. “Brett has put together a terrific team of dancers: 18 incredibly beautiful dancers have been beautifully handpicked from across the country. They’re young kids fresh out of training, a new generation of thoroughbreds.” He is particularly aware of the opportunity afforded the dancers by the fledgling company. “How many dancers are leaving the country? That’s 18 dancers who won’t have to go overseas. What a gift to 18 dancers: six months contract, a lovely tour, an ongoing future with the company! Creatively it’s the beginning of something that could offer them a satisfying and fulfilling career.”

Murphy stresses how significantly unique Mod is in the world of dance in Australia. “They’re a new group of people, with a different way of approaching things, passionate about this ... They are helping to create a new dance industry.” He is impressed with how Mod is able to maintain independence from government subsidies. “There is one unified vision incorporated in management of Mod. When does a contemporary dance have independence? This is a dance company not using the normal blueprint; it’s a different model. They’re in dangerous territory; the safety nets aren’t there.” And Suite Synergy is not your average dance performance, reckons Murphy. “People have said ‘This should be on Broadway – this is a show!’ The live music, costuming... In the world of subsidy and dance – you can’t sit down and ‘do a show’! I love dance when it crosses all these boundaries.”

The brief Mod sets itself is to provide dance as ‘an alternative and accessible product that will reach a broader community.’ Murphy insists that ‘accessible’ doesn’t involve a compromise of either integrity or innovation. “Mod is a different animal to other companies.” Suite Synergy, he says, “emerges as a driving force, an incredible testing of what is commercial dance. It has enough feeling to be regarded as highly, incredibly innovative. This work has the ability to make a difference; which is important and healthy for the industry.”

Melbourne’s distinctive art hotel, The Cullen, hosted the launch of Mod Dance Company on a hot Wednesday night in February. In his address to the audience of dance aficionados and supporters Graeme Murphy said he was in ‘awe’ of the Mod team. “They’re a team of facilitators who are not afraid to bust bureaucracy.” Hearing Graeme Murphy speak of this new direction, it is easy to appreciate what it means to him. ‘It’s pretty joyous,” he says, adding “It is incredibly momentous to see my past, present and future in this room.”

Graeme Murphy's Suite Synergy by Mod Dance Company plays Melbourne - Arts Centre 23 - 26 March 2011, and Sydney - Lyric Theatre, Star City 6 - 9 April 2011

Photo (top right) - Nolan Bradbury (Jigsaw Creative)

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