Poppy

#13: Composer Carl Vine on ‘Poppy’ (1978)

01 May 2019

“It’s tempting to compare Sydney in 1978 with Paris in 1915, but apart from Jean Cocteau being the focus of our Poppy there are few parallels. We had no Sergei Diaghilev, Graeme Murphy was too self-aware to pose as Nijinsky and I was no Stravinsky. But the artistic team was large, and we were all acutely aware of creating the first full-length ballet to be devised, designed, choreographed, and composed by Australians.

I don’t know that there was an unusually high concentration of talent in those years, but there was much less competition and far fewer distractions. Graeme’s bold and unapologetic vision of Poppy was perfectly designed to make a massive impact at a time when Australia, and especially Sydney, were keen to feel equal to theatrical expertise anywhere in the world.

Poppy
Brett Morgan, David Prudbam and Paul Mercurio depict difference facets of Nijinsky’s personality; with Alfred Williams as Diaghilev.

I had worked with several small dance companies before composing Poppy, my second commission for Sydney Dance Company. Its biggest impact on my work was the sheer heft of a full-length (90 minute) professional production, alongside all of the vital historical research that had to be reflected in music and design.

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Graeme Murphy danced the role of Jean Cocteau – the pivotal main character in Poppy, in each season both nationally and internationally.

The Company’s support let me develop a raft of skills including preparing and conducting a fully professional performing ensemble, running commercial recording sessions for the full run of the show, sometimes playing piano in the orchestra pit and creating a 45-minute fully electronic soundscape: an unusual achievement back then. The finished show felt like a really important achievement, but I don’t think anybody guessed it would stay in the repertoire for more than 20 years.”

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Composer Carl Vine
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The Cabaret “I am Parisian, I speak Parisian, I pronounce Parisian”
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Backstage at the Ballets Russes
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Act 2 “What others criticise you for, cultivate: it is you
Drawings and quotes from the Poppy program, which were taken as excerpts from the lifetime writings of Jean Coctaeu drawn from Professional Secrets.

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