Sydney Dance Company

October 13, 2000

Sydney Dance Company

Memorial Auditorium
Stanford, California

October 13?14, 2000

Reviewed by Janice Ross

The story of Salome has never been as popular a topic for choreographers in the United States as it has been in Europe. One of the few exceptions is California modern dancer Lester Horton’s 1938 staging of this biblical tale. The reasons for Salome scarcity in the world of narrative dance in the West are many, and a number of them were on display at the American premiere of Graeme Murphy’s Salome by the Sydney Dance Company in Stanford University’s Lively Arts Season. Murphy, the popular director of SDC, tells this historic legend, made famous in our time by Oscar Wilde’s play, as a series of physical crescendos, beautifully lit tableaux vivants of desire, rage, revenge and overstatement.

Murphy’s ballet sweeps through all the big emotions, displaying but never effectively evoking them in a ninety-minute ballet that centers on the appetites and moral defects of four central figures. Passionately danced by the technically uneven SDC, these included the licentious King Herod (Bradley Chatfield), his serpentine wife Herodias (company Associate Director Janet Vernon), their adolescent daughter Salome (Tracey Carrodus) and their captive, a Christ-like John the Baptist (Josef Brown). The trouble is that Murphy’s ballet vocabulary doesn’t have the physical body language for the kind of angst he wants to display. Instead, it is the empty decadence of Herod and his sex-obsessed family that gets highlighted in movement that is graphically simplistic. At times it dips into the vulgar, as when King Herod’s chorus of dancing girls grab the triangular plates of bells that hang over their crotches and repeatedly shake these at a delighted Herod.

There is little if any character development here, save one of the middle scenes where Murphy hints that family dysfunction may lie at the root of Salome’s own perverse appetites. He does this by first showing her as a frightened child fleeing her father’s pawing hands in a series of cascading runs and harness-supported leaps across the shoulders of the men of his court. Soon after, she begins rubbing herself seductively against an intrigued John the Baptist, as well as his guard’s leg, like a canine in heat. Steadily, however, it is the narrative more than the emotional aspects of Salome’s story that keeps getting emphasized; the look rather than the feel of the story. In the U.S., it is generally modern dance that displays mythic tensions of this sort, and this balletic production reveals an uneasy match between subject and means.

which premiered in Australia in 1998, is replete with devices other than interesting choreography to try to engage us. Percussionist and composer Michael Askill’s commissioned score starts with a Middle-Eastern wailing cry, suggesting a call to prayer and spiritual ecstasy at the same time, creating a nice opening link between religious and secular passions that is at the heart of the Salome legend. Unfortunately, Murphy doesn’t develop these or any other ideas; instead, he merely theatricalizes their consequences resulting in a production that lacks the depth and emotional richness inherent in this story.