By GUS SOLOMONS JR.
Holding an audience’s attention with an evening-length, plot-less work has challenged master choreographers including George Balanchine and Merce Cunningham. Last week, the Sydney Dance Company took the Joyce by storm with artistic director Graeme Murphy’s evening-length “Ellipse.” Murphy even upped the ante by giving us 90 minutes with no intermission.
“Ellipse,” whose name is inspired by Gerard Manion’s elliptical looping tube that frames the dancing space like a 3-D stock market graph, is a seven-dance suite set to music by Matthew Hindson and arranged for ensembles from piano-cello duo to “full-throttle orchestration.” Based on eclectic sources––pop to symphonic––Hindson’s music oozes melodic and harmonic lushness. And Murphy tends to use it literally, hitting accents and mimicking textures, occasionally to the point of corniness, as when the two couples in section two, “Technologic 2,” end with a drop to one knee, a wink, and a salute, a la “Stars and Stripes”––as done by the Trocks.
But Murphy’s kinetic inventiveness coupled with the amazing skill of his 16 extraordinary dancers keep us riveted with increasingly spectacular movement invention. Murphy’s primary vocabulary is classical ballet, but his vivid kinetic imagination stretches it into surprising flights of fancy that exploit his marvelous dancers’ unique abilities.
In the third section, statuesque Andrea Briody, balanced firmly on one foot, slowly lifts her other leg above her head with her hands, as if it were a length of rope, then pitches forward and points the leg to the sky behind her. Petite waif Tracey Carrodus then goes on a roller coaster ride in the strong hands of Adonises Josef Brown and Simon Turner, who swoop her in wide arcs low to the ground then high overhead or flip her between them like a surf board.
Murphy can’t help being literal, centering his “abstraction” in emotions. In “Lament,” a corps of men in black Speedos, each with a wisp of gauze flowing from it, keep fresh, young thing Cassandra Grove from consummating her romance with tall, handsome Xue Jun Wang.
The “Homage to Metallica” section gets downright narrative. Briody, a wicked Siren, plays for suckers the cowboys in chaps, Shane Placentino and Gavin Mitford, inveigling them into saving her from an oncoming locomotive (the rest of the company, chugging along), and copping their stash while they pummel each other.
The slapstick neatly changes the pace before the all-out, aptly titled finale “Speed,” which features big, powerful Brown, but gives other standout performers chances to shine: quicksilver, acrobatic Jason Wilcock and his sleek, sexy partner Chylie Cooper, and the terrific Christopher Sheriff and Simone Sault. The Latin beat of the music builds in volume and intensity, women exuberantly hopping on and off the men’s thighs in physical ecstasy. Here, Hindson’s epic-movie music drives the dancers to a phenomenal pitch of energy and excitement: Cirque du Soleil to the tenth degree.
Of course, the Aussie dancers have gorgeous bodies and Akira Isogawa’s minimum costumes and Damian Cooper’s lighting expose as much skin as decency allows.