★★★★☆ Bright new ideas from a quartet of rising choreographic stars.

Carriageworks, Sydney
December 9, 2015

This year marks the second outing for Rafael Bonachela’s cunning plan to give a raft of young choreographers a chance to flex their creative muscles by creating new works utilising the skills of 16 dancers from Sydney Dance Company. In other words, it’s a chance to have your ideas workshopped by the very best. If the first New Breed felt a bit rough and ready, or even a bit hit or miss, this one steps up a gear with commissioned music and some impressive costume and lighting design. The result is definitely more hit than miss, constituting a glimpse into the future and spotlighting four exciting Australian dancemakers.

Cass Mortimer Eipper in Bernhard Knauer’s Derived

The shortest and most conventional work was Bernhard Knauer’s Derived, its title a nod to his inspirational source – the music of his father. Jürgen Knauer was a Dresden-born composer and violist whose work inhabits a European late-tonal world, in this case sounding a bit like a bleak viol consort put through the mangle by Alban Berg. His son’s choreography is tightly bound to the music, taking the idea of theme and variation and presenting it with discipline and imagination. Sinuous bodies writhe and extend, confined within squares of light. Solos become duets and trios while other dancers prowl in the dark, ready to have the baton passed when their turn comes. At eight minutes it was neatly executed and the perfect length to express Knauer’s abstracted, slightly cerebral forms.

Richard Cilli in Kristina Chan’s Conform

The hit of the night has to have been Kristina Chan’s Conform, an exploration of what it means to be a man in the modern world. At 29 minutes, on paper this piece looked likely to outstay its welcome – not a bit of it! Chan has a innate sense of time and the visual image – when to move, how long you can be still. Her ideas were fresh, inventive and carried a real sense of masculinity, thanks one can only imagine to intensive research, hard work and the eight brilliant men she had at her disposal. Cloaked in brooding, urban wear, the dancers acted as much as they moved, conveying intent at every turn. Arresting patterns showed peer pressure, gang mentality and the dangerously thin membrane between violence and sexual tension. Stunning slow sections where morphing bodies told stories of domination and submission were juxtaposed with military marches and sequences where dancers did little more than stand, and yet every moment carried something special aided and abetted by Matthew Marshall’s atmospheric and detailed lighting and James Brown’s pulsing ambient, minimalist score. Chan, an independent choreographer is definitely one to watch.

Janessa Dufty in Daniel Riley’s Reign

In some respects Daniel Riley’s Reign was the mirror to Chan’s work. Supposedly an exploration of powerful women, and using eight female dancers, it felt longer than its 16 minutes and despite the skills of SDC failed to tell more than the simplest of tales. One woman squatting in a pile of sand conflicts with a tribe of seven who overthrow her – that was all. There were a lot of flailing limbs, a busy score by Nick Thayer and a lot of dim blue lighting, but apart from an arresting image or two it all seemed a little purposeless.

Juliette Barton and Cass Mortimer Eipper in Fiona Jopp’s So Much, Doesn’t Matter

Not so Fiona Jopp’s witty So Much, Doesn’t Matter. With more ideas than you could shake a stick at, the SDC dancer’s first work was imaginative, clever and just a bit bonkers. Our first image is Falstaff dressed as Herne the Hunter, catching potatoes that have rained from the sky (while presumably it has thundered to the tune of Greensleeves). Jopp’s 15-minute work goes on to explore the many associations she feels are expressed by the ubiquitous Tudor tune, including plenty of dressing and cross-dressing and a wacky playground sequence where we hear the melody played by a Mr Whippy ice cream van. There are some phantasmagorical images here, including four dancers appearing as a giant writhing farthingale and a stunning sequence where the central temptress is tossed violently from one suitor to another. The way she ends up acquiring the four skirts of her androgynous wooers is both clever and entertaining. With a nod to Peter Greenaway, and taking its choreographic inspiration anywhere from burlesque to the baroque, it’s perhaps in need of a little corralling here and there. Nevertheless, for all its nuttiness, So Much, Doesn’t Matter is bursting with imagination and executed with SDC’s trademark flair. Another one to watch.