#26: 1976 Graeme Murphy appointed Artistic Director


9 August 2019

“I want it to be a melting pot of styles… I get inspiration from people in the street, catching buses, anything. And I can develop these ideas in any style I think is right.”

Graeme Murphy was just 26 when he was named Artistic Director of the Company, following the unexpected resignation of Jaap Flier. At the time of his appointment, Graeme was creating a new work called Glimpses, inspired by the work of Norman Lindsay.

Graeme Murphy as Jean Cocteau in Poppy (1978). Photo by Branco Gaica.

Glimpses won the Canberra Times Award and was a resounding success, announcing Murphy as a new creative force. “I think it gave me a bit of a reputation, maybe as a bit of a naughty boy, because it was regarded as a bit risqué in those days,” Murphy recently told the ABC. It would take only five years until the Company was performing in New York.

Graeme Murphy’s Glimpses (1976).

Glimpses was followed three years later by Rumours, a work about the city of Sydney: its physical beauty, its active lifestyle, its characters. The ‘Lady Jane’ nude beach scene was the second act, sitting between sections that illustrated the young and the old, the optimism and the reality of aging. This work also had a long life and was toured extensively in Australia (Act 1 toured internationally). With such fresh and unique home-grown repertoire, the new era was furnished with a new name: The Dance Company (NSW) became Sydney Dance Company.

Graeme Murphy’s Rumours (1978). Photo by Branco Gaica.

Graeme would be Sydney Dance Company’s Artistic Director and key choreographer for 31 years, working in close collaboration with his lifelong creative partner Janet Vernon. His contribution to Australian dance has been acknowledged many times over as one of great significance. His commitment to Australian artists and Australian dance has been long and unwavering.

Murphy’s overall body of work currently numbers 80+ works, with 61 of these being created and produced for Sydney Dance Company during his time as Artistic Director. He has been described as highly innovative and iconoclastic, drawing from life and from whatever stimulates his imagination to create works that cannot be identified by genre or style. He mixes stories of past with commentary on the present, humour with poignancy, and classic aesthetic with curious distortion. Murphy’s leadership of the Sydney Dance Company took the Company to the world and gave it a presence on the international stage.

Graeme Murphy and Diana, Princess of Wales.

Murphy’s many awards include an Order of Australia (1982), Centenary Medal (2001), Australian Dance Awards Lifetime Achievement Award 2006, and numerous other Australian Dance Awards and Helpmann awards.

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