Australian Dance Reviews

Sydney Dance Company’s New Breed: A treat for the senses

Eliza Cooper's 'Revenge Tales and Romance'. Photo by Pedro Greig.
Eliza Cooper's 'Revenge Tales and Romance'. Photo by Pedro Greig.

Carriageworks, Sydney.
6 December 2023

Sydney Dance Company is celebrating a decade of New Breed this December, an annual season of works by emerging choreographers, commissioned to create a short work on the company, with each year showcasing four unique pieces by four unique choreographic voices. With generous support by The Balnaves Foundation and Carriageworks, New Breed is a chance for independent choreographers to work with the iconic Sydney Dance Company, with its artistic resources, time, studio space and a chance to work with the company dancers, the calibre of which are world class. Previous New Breed choreographic allumni include Christina Chan, Melanie Lane, Lilian Steiner and Petros Treklis.

This 10-year anniversary the opportunity was given to Riley Fitzgerald, Eliza Cooper, Tra Mi Dinh and Beau Dean Riley Smith. Each choreographer had something different to bring to the space, and with the pressure cooker of two weeks to produce something from the studio with dancers they had not choreographed on before, the array of creativity was deliciously diverse. Each artist comes from a different background and range of experiences, so there was something for everyone in this year’s season.

Riley Fitzgerald's 'Everyb0dy’s g0t a B0mb'. Photo by Pedro Greig.
Riley Fitzgerald’s ‘Everyb0dy’s g0t a B0mb’. Photo by Pedro Greig.

Riley Fitzgerald’s work Everyb0dy’s g0t a B0mb is inspired by the documentary on the absolute flop that was Woodstock ’99, an attempt at reviving the 1969 music festival. The energy and mentality of thousands of people coming together in the one space, and the collective energy and chaos that ensued, were the areas that Fitzgerald explored his piece. With set pieces inspired by Korn’s performance, and grungy outfits, the dancers brought chaotic energy, vocalisations and heightened movement to the stage. There were some great moments where two dancers, or the whole group, moved together in choreographic sequence, crisscrossing across the stage, with promising moments of clarity to the work. Unfortunately, there was likely not enough time to properly develop this piece. It felt chaotic, but not in any way that had a crescendo, choreographic structure or something to cling to, to drive the concepts home. This may have been the point, but it was hard to follow and did not come into any mature space, taking the audience on a journey into the chaos. There was no focal point, and in the chaos, any intended ideas got rather lost. The Collective Effervescence, a term coined by Emile Durkheim that Fitzgerald wanted to explore, is a fantastic concept that perhaps a few more weeks in the studio could find the gold in this work.

Eliza Cooper's 'Revenge Tales and Romance'. Photo by Pedro Greig.
Eliza Cooper’s ‘Revenge Tales and Romance’. Photo by Pedro Greig.

Eliza Cooper’s work Revenge Tales and Romance explores theatrical performance from many angles, and the various filters it goes through from creation, to what the audience sees, how this leads to superficiality, which ignores the complexity of any and everybody and situation, and how that plays out from a Generation Z perspective. Five female Gen Z performers performed and collaborated on this work with Cooper at the helm, and from their perspective as having grown up with social media a ubiquitous part of the current culture, Revenge Tales and Romance took us on an interesting journey, with influences such as the old spaghetti westerns, to TikTok. Cooper is not afraid of long pauses that make you stop think, of silence, of quirky expressions, and of drawing from many seemingly unrelated areas, tying them neatly in bow and presenting them for audience to unpack as we experience her work. She brought that fun, eccentric independent dance flavour to the New Breed space, and it was quite something. It is a work that has a lot of potential for development and layering, but with the only two weeks for work with the dancers and use a collaborative process, Cooper achieved an exciting snapshot into the future of creative and choreographic talent in Australia.

Tra Mi Dinh's 'Somewhere between ten and fourteen'. Photo by Pedro Greig.
Tra Mi Dinh’s ‘Somewhere between ten and fourteen’. Photo by Pedro Greig.

Tra Mi Dinh’s work Somewhere between ten and fourteen was the standout work of the evening. An exploration of dusk, of the time between day and night, when the sun dips between 10-14 degrees below the horizon, it follows her previous body of work, exploring time. Inspired by a certain shade of blue, this was reflected in the most stunning shades of blue in three gradients in the costumes. There were a few quintessential Dinh-style phrases in the work that were manipulated and developed throughout the work, with some stunning canons in the mix. Wave-like movement patterns, loose and free but technically challenging choreography that brought out the best of these dancers and showcased their strengths. Dinh’s work just continues to go from strength to strength, with the achievement of bringing dancers she has never worked with to a place where her own style sits so naturally on them, is quite a feat. Her work certainly suits the Sydney Dance Company aesthetic, whilst remaining her own.

Beau Dean Riley Smith's 'Gubba'. Photo by Pedro Greig.
Beau Dean Riley Smith’s ‘Gubba’. Photo by Pedro Greig.

Beau Dean Riley Smith finalised the program with his work Gubba. Previous to New Breed, Smith had only worked with Indigenous artists, which has given both Smith and the audience a chance to create and experience something that is quite unique. Gubba brought a very creative take on the foundation of Australia, and the period of the frontier wars, on a background of a reimagined H.G. Wells War of Worlds score. The perspective that Smith drew on was a white perception of the events, through a black lens. What seemed to be Dreamtime-like images wove through the work, along with a confronting reality of social pressure. It gave the impression of what invasion feels like from the position of those being invaded. The bigness of the monster coming at you was a strong and present theme. Smith cleverly used two-tone material and backpack/vest structures in the costume which morphed at different times to convey the various images in his work. It was a powerful telling of an experience in a very condensed moment. Strong images and themes made a potent impression. Smith has a wonderfully creative ability to convey his purpose in a way that stays long after you walk out of the theatre, a storytelling capability is drawn from a master storytelling culture.

New Breed is a wonderful way to showcase new work from emerging creators and embrace the new and different. The opportunity is one that allows choreographers to create on a high calibre canvas, stretching their legs on the influential platform that Sydney Dance Company provides. It can be a great career turning point for those who are given the chance, and a smorgasbord of dance of all kinds for the audience. This year’s selection was once again a treat for the senses, a mix of challenging and provocative themes and images, as well as work that was easy watching, a well-balanced curation. Fitzgerald, Cooper, Dinh and Smith should be very proud of their achievements, and we look forward to seeing what the future brings for them all.

By Linda Badger of Dance Informa.

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