Sydney Dance Company

November 28, 2000

Sydney Dance Company

Joyce Theater
New York, New York
November 28?December 3, 2000

Reviewed by Marilyn Hunt

Graeme Murphy?s Air and other invisible forces has a split personality. Murphy offers a range of emotions behind his title theme by dividing the evening into lighter and darker halves. But the second part of the ninety-minute performance without intermission felt like a letdown. It spilled over into portentousness even though it was the more abstract-appearing The contrasting moods of the two parts were based squarely on two very different musical modes.

Spirituality, serenity, joy and literal air are guiding themes in the first part. On the shadowy stage, light illuminates darkness. Michael Askill?s Buddhist-inspired music, played mainly onstage by the master shakuhachi player Riley Lee and percussionist Alison Low Choy, creates a palpable space for meditation and a grounding for the dancers, who resemble monks in their light-colored, fluid draperies. Lee, seated on a small round platform with its own miniature spotlight, mysteriously glides among them. Billowing chiffon tubes, scarves and banners make air and wind visible. A series of muscular men in orange (Buddhist-related again), dancing solo or in small groups, become emblems of ecstasy, whirling in jagged front attitudes with hieratic gestures and open mouths. Their rough-edged, balletic athleticism produces helter-skelter turns, intense stares and a twirling toss-catch. A group flutter their hands in a the shape of a mandala around themselves. Women lean out into space, supported by scarves the men have encircled them with. Graham-like duets follow. A woman is lifted in lotus position. Janet Vernon is a solitary priestess of mature wisdom, dancing in praise and celebration, or again in sober reflection. The Shakuhachi player?s shadow wavers on a stretched banner.

This is Murphy?s fertile and vigorous imagination as I remember it from past visits. But then the score turns to Giya Kancheli?s overripe, swelling, Western-style music on tape. It wants to boss our reactions. There is grief, anger, yes, but slow motion begins to feel like a straitjacket on the dancers and the audience. The dancers, now all in black in a dark atmosphere, Mickey-Mouse the music with big moves on blaring chords or respond to a sobbing violin. Repeatedly, one or another climbs a stairway of hands. Women are swung around. Gestures express grief. A sacrificial victim is raised up in the midst of a group. Eventually she dies, climbing the hands and falling, and Vernon, the older woman, laments. The rituals, with several false endings, have become overbearing.