war and sport take centre stage

While having coffee with one choreographer who knows firsthand the House of Un-American Activities Commission blacklist trials that is Australian federal and state arts funding, I was told Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon, founders and artistic directors of Sydney Dance Company for 30 years, have chosen to resign rather than endure the witch-hunt of justifying art. We are witnessing the Auto de fe of Australian contemporary dance

“Having seen dance blossom in the past 30 years increases the sadness we feel at seeing it enter a less dynamic phase,” Murphy and Vernon said in a statement released yesterday. “Potential for new adventures is greatly diminished in these cash-strapped times.

“The exciting new undergrowth has never been sparser and old growth (we consider Sydney Dance Company as such) has never been more threatened.”

[…]

In their statement, Murphy and Vernon were deeply critical of the Government’s “indifference” to dance, an artform which, “could bring so much to the troubled culture of Australia’s identity.

“How can the arts flourish in a society where war and sport take centre stage?” they said.

— Sydney Morning Herald

It’s the last dance for frustrated choreographers

Richard Jinman

GRAEME Murphy and Janet Vernon are quitting the Sydney Dance Company after 30 years, frustrated by a funding shortfall they believe is choking creativity and threatening the future of dance in Australia.

The high-profile artistic directors will leave the company on April 1 next year at the end of its tour of the United States. The decision to resign has been hastened by their frustration at the prolonged and debilitating battle to secure adequate funding for the company Murphy founded in 1976.

“Having seen dance blossom in the past 30 years increases the sadness we feel at seeing it enter a less dynamic phase,” Murphy and Vernon said in a statement released yesterday. “Potential for new adventures is greatly diminished in these cash-strapped times.

“The exciting new undergrowth has never been sparser and old growth (we consider Sydney Dance Company as such) has never been more threatened.”

The SDC has been in financial strife since late 2004 when it lost $800,000 due to two box office flops. That deficit was wiped out by a one-off $600,000 payment in the last federal budget, but it has no guarantee of additional funding and is expected to go back into the red by the end of this financial year.

In their statement, Murphy and Vernon were deeply critical of the Government’s “indifference” to dance, an artform which, “could bring so much to the troubled culture of Australia’s identity.

“How can the arts flourish in a society where war and sport take centre stage?” they said.

The executive director of the Sydney Dance Company, Leigh Small, said the artistic directors’ statement was a personal perspective.

“… as you can all understand we have been in negotiations for two years concerning our funding, which is extremely debilitating to an artistic director,” she said. “From the company’s point of view it has been exhausting. He’s (Murphy) stating a pragmatic fact.”

SDC board member Scott Kershaw admitted yesterday the resignation had come as a surprise. The company’s chairman, Tom Dery, is in the US and another board member is on holiday.

Mr Kershaw said he expected the search for a new artistic director to take at least six months. Insiders speculated Australian Dance Theatre’s Garry Stewart, Kate Champion from Force Majeure, Chunky Move founder Gideon Obarzanek, Queensland’s Maggie Sietsma, Adrian Burnett or Narelle Benjamin may be among those on the shortlist.

The artistic director of the Australian Ballet, David McAllister, said Murphy was one of the world’s great choreographers.

“I think his importance internationally is extraordinary,” he said. “I think his commitment to creating new work is one of the most important legacies he can leave. I’m sure the SDC will continue with a new director.”

McAllister said it would be hard to replace Murphy, but “there are lots of talented people around. I’m sure it (the position) will be eagerly contested.”