This year marks a half decade since Sydney Dance Company first launched New Breed: a curation of emerging Australian contemporary choreographers. The event typically garners much interest and is often sold out, helped by the accessibly-priced tickets and the venue choice of the hip, low-key Carriageworks (a collaborator in presenting New Breed), rather than the company’s usual Roslyn Packer Theatre. And it was evident that the audience comprised not just the usual theatre-going crowd, but also several professional dancers and friends of the performers. New Breed, with its emphasis on experimenting and new talent, is obviously of special interest to those in the industry.

A scene from Katrina Olsen's <i>Mother's Cry</i> © Pedro Greig
A scene from Katrina Olsen's Mother's Cry
© Pedro Greig

The 2018 instalment commenced with Prue Lang’s Towards Innumerable Futures. Exploring a future of humans merged with artificial intelligence, the dancers were decked out in space-age androgynous unitards and jackets, complete with shop-mannequin wigs. The visual aesthetic was compelling, but the choreography less so. Lang had the dancers mirror each other’s movements, dance as one intertwined entity, jarringly interrupt each other at odd junctures, repeat sequences at different speeds, and walk in dogged straight lines across the stage. It was evident this was meant to suggest robotic thought and movement, but I felt that clearer movement vocabulary and more thoughtful phrasing were required to fully realise the choreographic intention and sustain audience interest.

The second piece was Katina Olsen’s Mother’s Cry, a reaction to our society’s fractured and destructive relationship with a nurturing, feminine mother Earth. Although forward-looking to the future like Lang, Olsen’s choreography was unmistakeably organic and sensual, and made use of a sustained, almost slow-motion, flow of movement (perhaps a little too generously in the first half, causing the work to slightly drag). Olsen is a proud Indigenous choreographer and dancer who performed for several years with Bangarra Dance Theatre, and it was quite evident that her choreography would be realised best by dancers trained in the aesthetic. Although there was no questioning the commitment of the performers on stage (Janessa Dufty and Jesse Scales were particularly outstanding), a greater sense of weight and connection to the ground, less holding of weight in the core, and greater release and flow in the upper torso and head would have allowed the audience to appreciate the choreography more fully.

New Breed’s second half comprised works by two company members, Janessa Dufty and Holly Doyle. It was the stronger half of the evening, and exciting to see that Sydney Dance Company is endeavouring to hothouse choreographic promise as well as outstanding performance ability.

Like Olsen, Dufty also took inspiration from the environment with Telopea, a dance response to the waratah flower.  Tobias Merz composed the original score and appeared on stage to sing, and his musical presence contributed greatly to the work’s impact. It was also something of a relief to hear melody after the two previous scores (Chiara Kickdrum and Cameron Bruce respectively), which were aurally demanding with their ambient and driving soundscapes. Dufty’s choreography was also beautiful, showing a sophisticated sense of phrasing and timing, and a flowing, athletic aesthetic.  Whilst perhaps the least experimental of the evening's four performances, this work wasn't necessarily trying to be.  It felt artistically whole, and the result of a thoughtful and mature artistic vision. Ariella Casu, as the sole female dancer within a quartet of men, also deserves special mention for holding her own (and then some) in both strength and stage presence.

The final piece was Doyle’s Out, Damned Spot!, a “modernised mimicry” of cleansing. The humorous element won the audience from the dancers’ first entrance, as they emerged – chanting and running in formation as if in military drill – in what looked like disposable hazmat suits. The work was quirkily intelligent, with Doyle exploring an inventive movement vocabulary of abrupt quixotic tics and increasingly frenetic cleansing anxiety. There was also clever interaction with the lighting design, as the dancers tossed and turned in a rapidly shrinking square of white light. All in all, it was an energised note on which to end the evening.

The costume and lighting design for all four of New Breed's works were created by Aleisa Jelbart and Alexander Berlage respectively. Both production elements were fantastically strong – completely different and artistically supportive according to each choreographic vision, and a real tribute to Jelbart and Berlage’s diversity.

Programs like New Breed serve an important role in ensuring the growth and development of dance. Although not as slick as fully-funded productions, and with the experimentation sometimes yielding hit-or-miss results, this is all part of the fun.  At the end of the day they breathe life into any arts landscape and are well worth our broad and continuing audience support.

***11