New Breed – An exhilarating and Exhausting Night of Interpretive Dance

My wife and I are not dancers. We shuffle through our moves at weddings and gingerly stretch at pilates. Our daughter Alicia, on the other hand, is a ballerina with years of training in jazz and contemporary dance, who salsas with her Brazilian husband to the amazement of whatever crowd is about. But when Alicia asked us to represent The Plus Ones on her behalf at the opening night of Sydney Dance Company’s New Breed at the Carriageworks, the wannabe dancers inside us couldn’t resist.

Little did we know what we were in for. As my wife read through the program while waiting for the theatre to open in the cavernous converted Eveleigh railway yards, she whispered, “This is the dance equivalent of abstract art”. And so it was. Four aspiring choreographers sponsored by the Balnaves Foundation presented inspiring and energetic performances, based on eternal themes, that really could be exhibited in the MCA.


The first 15-minute depiction, “What You See” choreographed by Jesse Scales, explores the inner struggle of torment and emptiness. Three solo dancers writhe and convulse about the stage as they are pulled and pummeled by Kafkaesque despair. They then seemingly transcend the conflict and become normal as a synchronised trio moving gracefully across the floor. Once their social confidence is restored, each dancer then asserts themselves individually with their own style. But the doubts within remain, with each demonstrating an occasional glitch or tremor in their actions. The interpretation and athleticism of dancers Cass Mortimer Eipper, Nelson Earl and Latisha Sparks is impressive.

“Hinterland” by Richard Cilli is a 20-minute investigation into the dilemma of human uniqueness and interconnectedness. Each movement by one of the nine dancers is met with an aural response from all the others. As individuals become aware of the impact they have on the group, they interact with others, first in pairs and then in more complex arrangements, all the while expressing feedback through sound. At one point, a pair of aggressive fighters receive the disapproval of all with the flatulent sound of mouths on forearms, to the amusement of the audience. Somewhere in the middle of the event, a random conversation takes place onstage between cast members about who they are most like amongst the various characters and inanimate objects in the movie Titanic. To be frank, it seemed to us like a total non sequitur. The performance culminates with a slow-motion entanglement of all nine, set to a classic Franz Liszt crescendo. The morass of bodies, in which it is impossible to identify an individual, well depicts the collective nature of mankind.

Our favourite piece of the evening, “Of Dust” by Rachel Arianne Ogle, expands the theme of interconnectedness to the origin and eventuality of the universe. Set to the throbbing heartbeat of the cosmos, with the power of fusion, five dancers yin and yang through the Big Bang with extended limbs pulling and releasing like gravity. Galaxies are born, planets form in solar orbits, individual worlds briefly flourish, before the forces of creation become (in the absence of divine intervention) the relentless cause of collapse and destruction. Little, lythe Charmene Yap is a standout as a speedy comet – lifted, lowered and launched by the larger and stronger heavenly bodies. As an ode to death, the troupe endure the strobe effects of ageing, and the pumping vibe stops before they slowly recede as silhouettes into the bright white light of oblivion. Perhaps The Light has another plan? The audience responded appreciatively to this 26-minute power play, to the obvious satisfaction of the five sweaty and exhausted dancers.


After intermission, the audience was treated to a unique experience by Shian Law with “Epic Theatre”. Rather than returning to our seats when the bell rang, we were ushered onstage and blocked by the cast of some 20 characters standing with arms interlocked before us. We then stood in the middle of several struggles and fight sequences between the dancers interspersed amongst us. Eventually we were allowed to take our seats, where we then observed the cast marching down an aisle onto the stage, one at a time, with their backs to us. Most were ordinary folk like us, judging from their size, shape and clothing. Others were obviously dancers with fit bodies and skimpy costumes, who would step back and bow to an imaginary crowd positioned in front of us all. Once all the observers were weeded out from the cast, the eleven performers then engaged in a series of slow motion vignettes to a didgeridoo-like score. Finally the director of the play which we were apparently supposed to be watching – Shian himself – came out in Alfred Hitchcock style and repositioned the heads of each frozen actor to properly face the audience. Thanks to our programs, we could understand that these bizarre antics were supposed to depict the ritual of theatre as a means by which people can observe others. We had been exposed to the realm of players and spectators from behind the scenes, on stage and in the stalls. Lacking the gymnastic energy and interpretive excellence of the earlier three performances, this was actually a rather uncomfortable 30 minutes, but curious nonetheless.

The night ended with drinks and nibbles in the foyer, punctuated by Rafael Bonachela (SDC Artistic Director) introducing the four young choreographers and reaffirming SDC’s commitment to nurturing dance professionalism in Australia. Neil Balnaves then announced that the Foundation trustees have approved $300,000 to fund a further three years of the New Breed initiative with the support of SDC and Carriageworks. Thankfully, the future of modern dance in Sydney remains bright.


With our acceptance of the Plus One tickets from Alicia came the responsibility to write a critical review. What do we know and why would anyone care what we think? One good thing about abstract art, I am told, is that it means something different to each viewer, and the artists like it that way. So hopefully that is true too of modern dance.

Sydney Dance Company’s New Breed is showing at Carriageworks until 10 December. Tickets, just $35, may be purchased here:

By Jeffrey Tripp

Jeffrey is a recently retired industrial chemist and businessman, who has nurtured a love and respect for music, art and all forms of knowledge and culture in his children, including Alicia, who writes as the Theatre Specialist for The Plus Ones. He considers himself honoured to be used every now and then as her fill-in critic, and is pleased to cross “getting published” off his bucket list.