This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Graeme Murphy’s career as a dancer and choreographer, which began at The Australian Ballet in 1968. He has often returned to create new ballets on the company – during his thirty-one years as artistic director of Sydney Dance Company from 1976 to 2006, and more recently. His lasting successes at The Australian Ballet comprise Nutcracker – Clara’s story, Swan Lake, and Beyond Twelve, a tribute to the late principal dancer Kelvin Coe. To honour the anniversary, David McAllister, The Australian Ballet’s artistic director, invited Murphy and his artistic and life partner, Janet Vernon, to compile a retrospective to open this year’s offerings.
To say that Murphy and Vernon are joined at the hip would not overstate the effect of their lives as artist and muse on Murphy’s choreographic imagination: every step or phrase of dance, any gesture or mood, any response to a musical line reflects their dedication to fashioning a liquid flow of movement that harks back to German Expressionism, and a neoclassical line that can slip without warning into something more organic, primal, and often erotic. Murphy’s ideas on partnering can seem eccentric, as he repeatedly places dancers on top of, wrapped around, or plastered against one another, and pulled into exacting geometries. Underpinning all this is Murphy’s expansive musical taste, from European composers such as Ravel, Xenakis, and Messiaen to Australians Matthew Hindson, Graeme Koehne, Carl Vine, and Max Lambert.