The Murphy & Vernon Heritage: a work in progress

Goodwill and nostalgia united in equal measures when Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon walked onto the stage of the Sydney Theatre on 18 October to formally introduce The Heritage Collection.

The collection – a work in progress – is a digitally restored selection of the repertoire of the dance works created in the 31-year era when Murphy, working with Vernon at his side, was the artistic director of the SDC. The archive will, eventually, be edited as a documentary or even a series of two to three documentaries that may one day be available to all, if complex copyright issues can be resolved.

Murphy gave full credit to his former colleague, Janine Kyle, who insisted that the dance works be filmed, and they were over the years, by the cinematographer, Philippe Charluet.

He also recognised the six patrons, including two former SDC chairmen, who underwrote the Heritage Collection and acknowledged the SDC dancers and collaborators who are no longer with us, among them, Mary Duchesne, Kelvin Coe and Kristian Fredrikson.

These three decades with Murphy and Vernon at the helm represent a vitally important part of Australia’s dance history, and their commitment was acknowledged by a standing ovation by the audience.

The couple were introduced by the SDC’s current artistic director, Rafael Bonachela. I may be wrong, but I think that’s the first time that Murphy and Vernon have shared a stage with their successor.

In the audience were former SDC dancers, designers, composers and musicians, as well as friends and also Suzanne Davidson, who was the first artistic director of the company that evolved from a dance education group called Ballet in a Nutshell which, in turn, became Athletes and Dancers and finally The Dance Company (NSW). Davidson, a foundation member of the Australian Ballet, led all these companies.

Murphy began his artistic directorship in 1976, changing the company’s name to Sydney Dance Company three years later.

Among the edited film shown at the Sydney Theatre were extracts from Some Rooms, Synergy With Synergy, Nearly Beloved, Rumours, Berlin, Air and Other Invisible Forces, Shades of Gray, Mythologia and Grand, the last a tribute by Murphy to his mother.

As Murphy said in his final address, our dance history is so important as a barometer of the health of the nation and our culture.

And, he added, he has not retired. His next work will be a new Giselle without one note of Adam’s score, choreographed for the Universal Ballet (South Korea) and premiering in June next year.