The four new works that comprise the 2015 season of New Breed – presented by Sydney Dance Company and Carriageworks – each have a distinctive style, ranging from poetic to whimsical and dramatic.
Composer Jurgen Knauer’s beautiful, cello based score sets a refined and intellectual tone for the first work, Bernhard Knauer’s Derived. It is the perfect title for a work that is entirely about the aesthetics of the dance form. One sequence evolves into the next, very like the interaction between instruments in a chamber ensemble. The dancers perform in squares of light: first one dancer, then another, then two, followed by three; one movement naturally seguing into the next. Derived demonstrates a synthesis of Knauer’s classical and contemporary experience in Europe and as a Sydney Dance Company member. Low to the ground and angular, this conceptual chamber piece is both restrained and elegant.
The next, all male, work is twice as long as the first and doubles the number of dancers on stage. If Knauer’s work was silky and cerebral, Kristina Chan’s Conform is, by contrast, a robust and muscular interrogation of masculinity. Having made the transition from highly successful dancer, Chan is at the beginning of her career as an independent choreographer. This striking work offers a mostly bleak view of the fate of contemporary man, inhibited by a strict code of masculine behaviour. The eight male dancers are dressed in a casual uniform of grey T-shirts, track pants and sneakers – ordinary Joes.
Set to composer James Brown’s dramatic, electronic war zone soundscape, Conform is bursting with formidable images, all devoid of empathy or love: the intimidating jolt of a shoulder in passing, the group descending on an individual, the gang that morphs into a military troupe marching mindlessly and subserviently in formation. The dancers enact the clichéd and empty routines of masculine gesturing.
The repetitive action of one dancer fending off another by pushing his hand against the other’s head was the single most powerful image in the work. It looked so dangerous. When the dancer’s head twisted it looked more frightening than any choreographed naturalistic fight scene. There is a very poignant scene in which one dancer lies face down, presumably dead, on the floor and another dancer takes his place in the same position. The dancers do it over and over, like they are without out value; like fodder, all replaceable, of little value. In the final scene, two adversarial figures struggle in a desperate, unspoken act of camaraderie to hold each other up. It is a fleeting moment of hope.
In her playful work, So Much, Doesn’t Matter, Sydney Dance Company member and first time choreographer, Fiona Jopp explores the history and cultural meanings of the song Greensleeves. Jopp writes in her artistic statement that the “song quickly became popular to the point of ridicule” and that she became “curious about the material pleasure mentioned in the song, popular culture and today’s penchant for instant gratification”.
Those themes weren’t altogether clear to me as an audience member. While the power play between the dancers and their materialism by being attracted to shiny things played strongly, one really had to know that the composition of the song is often attributed to Henry VIII, although probably written in the reign of Elizabeth, and to remember that the tune is now used as a Christmas song to understand why Henry VIII and a reindeer appear on stage. These arcane historical references distracted from the otherwise beautiful choreography and the very strong discourse on the culture of popularity, adoration and instant gratification.
Like Chan’s Conform, the malevolence of the group is a central theme in the final work by indigenous dancer, Daniel Riley. Riley is the most experienced of the four choreographers, having developed Riley and Scar for Bangarra and works overseas. Reign examines how powerful women are inevitably undermined and overthrown, much like in our own, not too distant political history. This time it is an ensemble of the eight female dancers.
Drawing upon a contemporary indigenous physical language, Reign is a high energy work in which the group tracks the lone figure, relentlessly hunting her down and trapping her. The group’s hunched backs, lowered heads and ochred bodies take on a threatening and sinister meaning here, symbolising an anonymous crowd or an unnamed destructive force.
The interplay between the lone woman and the group is dynamic and exciting. Interestingly, the crowd that brings this powerful woman down is not white patriarchy, but other women.
Now in its second season, Sydney Dance Company’s New Breed is designed to develop and showcase the work of young choreographers. Co-presented by Carriageworks, and supported by the Balnaves Foundation, this three-year initiative gives emerging choreographers the opportunity to work with designers and composers to realise their works. SDC Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela sees it as a way to allow young choreographers the chance to experiment and showcase their talent. That goal has certainly been achieved but the project has also connected strongly with audiences and this year’s short season was almost completely sold out by opening night.
Sydney Dance Company presents
Venue: Carriageworks Bay 20 | 245 Wilson St, Eveleigh
Dates: 8 – 13 December 2015