Last night couldn’t have been a more
appropriate time to catch the Sydney Dance Company performing in Melbourne with
its prophetically titled triple bill The Director’s Cut. I sat in the State Theatre waiting for the curtain to go up, clutching the
resignation letter that Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon had issued two hours
earlier.

The life partners and joint artistic directors of the SDC had announced
they were quitting the company Murphy founded thirty years ago.
Although these resignations seem to have taken many people by surprise,
the retrospective nature of The Director’s Cut, in which Murphy quotes heavily from
his past works, has a definite swan-song feel about it.

Today’s media – SMH and The Oz – recounts the company’s financial woes and has Murphy and Vernon criticising
the Federal Government’s “indifference” to dance as an art form.

Given that the government (under pressure from Murphy fan Alan Jones)
recently gave the SDC a one-off grant of $600,000 to wipe out its 2005 deficit,
Murphy and Vernon were probably a little ungracious in singling out Canberra for
criticism when it’s arguable that their biggest problems have been with the bean
counters at the Australia Council.

Nevertheless, there’s no escaping the bigger truth in all this – dance as an
art form is chronically underfunded, with Murphy and Vernon likening it to an
ecosystem in decline. “The exciting new undergrowth has never been sparser and old growth (we
consider Sydney Dance Company as such) has never been more threatened.”

Murphy and Vernon will continue with the company until the end of March
next year, allowing the board and management time to find a new artistic leader.
Much thought has to be given to what kind of company the SDC will be after
Murphy leaves – either driven by a singular choreographic style, as it is now,
or guided by an artistic director who would bring in a broader range of
choreographers to create works.

There are two more Melbourne performances of The Director’s Cut tonight and
tomorrow. It’s well worth seeing.

Peter Fray

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