Review: Sydney Dance Company's New Breed 2018

Lynne Lancaster

The current season of Sydney Dance Company's New Breed features four exciting and challenging works.
Review: Sydney Dance Company's New Breed 2018

Holly Doyle's Out, Damned Spot!. Photo via Sydney Dance Company.

This is the fifth year of New Breed, a season and showcase of new dance work that is becoming anxiously anticipated. Alesia Jelbart devised interesting costumes for each of the works, which were all dramatically lit by Alexander Berlage. Worth noting is that the first two works for this year were devised by freelancer choreographers outside the Sydney Dance Company.

Prue Lang’s Towards Innumerable Futures explores space with a marvellous sense of line and shape of movement. The dance is, perhaps, a comment on our society’s use of technology and how we connect to others. An alternative title for this work could be “OVER” as the word is illuminated in neon lights suspended above the stage. The dancers depict rather eerie robotic creatures (perhaps computer game avatars?) with bobbed black or blonde wigs, and costumed in spandex and sneakers.

For most of Lang’s Towards Innumerable Futures two dancers closely mirror each other in various pairings. They take turns to be one of the five dancers who breaks away and paces the stage. Also for most of the work the dancers are bodily connected – by head, hand, a finger, a foot – in flowing waves of movement. Every so often an individual breaks out momentarily and there is an extended sequence where the dancers take turns rotating on the spot while being connected to the other dancers. There is some incredibly acrobatic and demanding choreography demonstrated, and some extraordinary lifts as well as some wonderful, slinky, rolling, feline-like movements. Towards the end, the dancers speed up in an almost angry atmosphere, the music pulsating and increasing in intensity, then the dancers collapse in a heap on the floor. “OVER” flashes up again. The dancers rise separately, and the conclusion, after a spectacular solo from Charmene Yap, has a rather dreamlike atmosphere.

Prue Lang's Towards Innumerable Futures. Photo via Sydney Dance Company.

Next came Mother’s Cry by Katina Olsen, expressing concern about Mother Earth and the environment. The dance opens powerfully and hauntingly with the five barefoot dancers rock-like on a haze enveloped stage. The dancers move at first quite slowly – pulsating and writhing – eventually rising to an upright position. There is wonderful unison work, it’s as if the dancers are a Greek chorus or the Furies. This scene is a comment on the planet. Olsen’s choreography is perhaps Butoh inspired combined with Olsen’s Kombumerri and Wakka Wakka background. There are stylised repeated movements, hands like undulating coral and swooping swirls of movement. The work ends when the dancers stand in a line staring at the audience with blinding lights behind them, then the dancers turn away.

Janessa Dufty’s haunting and compelling Telopea, which was for me a highlight of the program, is also inspired by the environment, in particular the waratah flower.

The costumes in Telopea include wonderfully textured long trousers. The dance is driving and relentless, with the ensemble often sinuous and writhing. There were some difficult lifts and explosive fiery breakout solos at points for some of the dancers. Choreographically, the dancers are symmetrically arranged at times as if embodying the waratah’s folding petals. It is also perhaps reminiscent of Graeme Murphy’s style. Composer Tobias Merz becomes part of the action and performs his own composition live on stage in dramatic counter tenor, interweaving with the dancers.

The final work, Holly Doyle’s Out, Damned Spot! was for me the least successful, however I must say the younger section of the audience enjoyed it and found it amusing. The dance also held a comment on our environment  and our cleaning rituals – there is a ‘sculpture’ of plastic items that is crashed into and scattered by one of the dancers.

Jelbart’s costumes are white, semi-transparent tracksuits with red stripes, a cross between hazmat suits and trendy street gear. Choreographically Out, Damned Spot! is perhaps reminiscent of the recently seen Forever and Ever by Antony Hamilton. It includes vocalisation, synchronised robotic movements and some unusual lifts and partnering. There is a sequence where the dancers are like a machine and it also features tumbling and balancing along with breakdancing.

The current season of Sydney Dance Company's New Breed is a must-see that features four exciting and challenging works.

4 stars ★★★★

New Breed 2018
Sydney Dance Company
29 November - 8 December 2018
Carriageworks, Sydney

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.