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Murphy: Australian Ballet April 2018

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Murphy. The Murphy in question is Graeme Murphy, who, together with his wife and creative associate, Janet Vernon, is perhaps the most influential Australian choreographer of the last 50 years. This production is a celebration of those 50 years, 31 of which saw him leading what became the  Sydney  Dance Company and establishing its presence as an internationally respected contemporary dance company. No evening can pay adequate respect to all aspects of Murphy's career, so Murphy focuses on extracts (mainly) from works originally created on/for the SDC, together with his full length Firebird, created in 2009 for the Australian Ballet. Extracts from well-known narrative works, such as Swan Lake and Nutcracker -The Story of Clara, being part of the current repertoire, are not included. Of the five extracts, or rather four extracts and one full length ballet which made up the first part of the program, I most enjoyed Air and Other Invisible Forces, which showed influences, particularly in the positioning of hands and feet, from the classical dance traditions of Thailand and Cambodia. Also Sheherazade, a beautifully sensuous ballet showing Murphy's interest in integrating dance and music on stage. Mezzo Soprano Victoria Lambourne sang Ravel's score on stage. 

For me, Firebird was the standout of the evening. While Murphy remained faithful to the original arc of the narrative, the action was entirely reconceived. On a stage dominated by a huge broken egg, Kostchei, in the form of a snake, and wonderfully danced by Brett Chynoweth, emerges from another half shell. Lana Jones was an unforgettable firebird, fierce, afraid, avenging. The narrative unfolds as it did in Fokine's original, the Tsarevich liberating the Tsarevna and her companions with the help of the Firebird. Kostchei is not however, completely defated, and as all are celebrating their rebirth, he shoots out from the broken egg, offering the Tsarevna an apple.

Murphy's signature moves, his use of interesting lifts and unusual (for ballet) combinations of dancers made the evening, for me as a comparatively new ballet-watcher, an unforgettable one. 


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jmb, Lana Jones was of course the original Firebird in this production, and is as stunning as ever. A pity Chengwu Guo had not returned from injury, as he was the original Kostchei and would have been interesting to see this time around. I agree that Chynoweth did an outstanding job.


I felt the programme to have been unbalanced - the first "half" was over twice as long as the second. I would have preferred the short extracts, interval, Grand in its entirety (which was not actually the case), interval, then Firebird. I was also surprised that the only piece in a programme celebrating Murphy's 50-year association with TAB actually created for TAB was Firebird, but apparently he was given complete free choice over what was presented. There was a set element missing from Sheherazade which was noticeable if you'd seen it before, but including the moving piano in Grand almost made up for the omission.


I had to laugh, though, as watching the entire programme, all the "Murphy signature elements" were on show, so it didn't really matter that we didn't get any of Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, Nutcracker - the Story of Clara, Beyond Twelve, Tivoli, or Gallery. I would particularly have liked to have seen Gallery again.


Special mentions to Valerie Tereshchenko, Andrew Killian, Yuumi Yamada and Leanne Stojmenov dancing with Kevin Jackson.

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