New Breed
Richard Cilli in Kristina Chan's “Conform.” Photograph by Peter Greig

New Breed

New choreography at Sydney Dance Company

Performance
Sydney Dance Company: “New Breed”
Place
Carriageworks, Sydney, Australia, December 8-13, 2015
Words
Claudia Lawson

“New Breed” is the brain child of Sydney Dance Company’s artistic director Rafael Bonachela. Now in its second year, the “New Breed” programme gives four up-and-coming choreographers the opportunity to create works on the dancers of the Sydney Dance Company. For these chosen four, “New Breed”provides a springboard to transition from dancer to choreographer. The initiative comes with all the creative support and infrastructure of the Sydney Dance Company—the choreographers have access to dancers, studios, costume and lighting design, and all four works premiere at Sydney’s Carriageworks theatre. The concept is beautifully simple, but still astonishingly rare in performing arts.

This year, Bonachela, together with Carriageworks’ associate director of programming, Lisa Ffrench, selected Kristina Chan, Daniel Riley, Bernhard Knauer and Fiona Jopp as their four. Chan, an award-winning dancer, has several choreographic credits to her name; Riley, a former dancer with Bangarra Dance Theatre (he rejoined for the anniversary tour this year) and Ireland’s Fabulous Beast, has created several works for Bangarra. Knauer and Jopp are both dancers with Sydney Dance Company, and are making their choreographic debuts at “New Breed.”

Bernhard Knauer’s “Derived,” for two men and two women, is choreographed to a sombre string score composed by Knauer’s father, Jürgen Knauer. Choreographically, the work reflects his Sydney Dance Company training; it has no narrative and the four dancers are clad in simple, revealing costumes. Full of clever interactions and movement, the piece explores duos, trips and quartets. It is only eight minutes in length, but together with the fabulous lighting from Matthew Marshall, it is both a wonderful choreographic debut and introduction to the evening.

The standout piece of the evening was Kristina Chan’s “Conform.” The work explores what it is to be a man in modern Western society. From a female choreographer, it is an interesting exploration. From the outset the work is intriguing, confronting and ultimately powerful. With Sydney Dance Company’s eight male dancers performing the piece, we watch as the work explores pack mentality, conformity, self-expression and the individual. It is perhaps the most innovative contemporary dance piece I have seen in Australia this year.  The highlight is a replacement scene, where each male dancer replaces another, each dancer rolling seamlessly off the stage, their replacement illuminated in a spotlight. It is intensely captivating but also offers moments of reflection. Contemporary choreography in Australia is in good hands, Chan is a rising star.

After interval we return for “So Much, Doesn’t Matter” by Fiona Jopp. With a talking antelope of sorts opening the work, it is the most eccentric piece of the programme. The work explores the well-known tune “Greensleeves,” while looking at temptation, desire and unity. It is peculiar in its composition, and arguably attempts to combine too many unrelated themes. Still, it brings a light heartedness to the evening, and choreographically it is intriguing. Juliette Barton ensconced in a glorious dancer-created skirt is a hightlight, as is Alana Sargent who brings a technically addictive performance.

In contrast to Kristina Chan’s work, “Reign,” by Daniel Riley is danced by Sydney Dance Company’s eight female dancers. The work explores how women of history have found themselves undermined by other women. The choreography is powerful and clever and showcases the dancers’ skills. The use of a mound of dirt laid on an otherwise bare stage hinting at material possession and power is both expressive and poignant. Riley takes advantage of his Bangarra training, incorporating courageous and interpretive movement; the outcome is a bold finale piece.

For all four choreographers,“New Breed” has allowed a platform for exploration and opportunity. Despite differing levels of success, the works are all innovative, full of risk and wonderfully executed. The power and possibility of “New Breed” shouldn’t be underestimated. It is a credit to the Sydney Dance Company and Carriageworks, and sets the scene for an exciting future of contemporary dance in Australia.

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