No company this season has been as generous with its repetory as the Sydney Dance Company, which performed more ballets (nine) in its two performances at Wolf Trap this weekend than England's Royal Ballet will give us in two weeks. But then, the Sydney company is not another "Opera House" ballet group that collects classics and proven works by master choreographers. It is more a cousin of the Nederlands Dans Theater or Ballet Rambert -- small groups of dancers of soloist caliber who concentrate on experimental dance forms and new music.
Graeme Murphy has been artistic director, principal choreographer and a leading dancer of the company since 1976, but his is not just a one-man show. Other choreographers, particularly other Australians, create works for the company, and when Murphy dances, he usually does so as one of a group.
Murphy's choreography is eclectic in an interestingly perverse way. Some of his works are based on an all-purpose modern dance technique diguised with pointe work, while "Daphnis and Chloe," the most balletic piece shown this weekend, puts the women in soft slippers or on roller skates.
Murphy often uses dancers like pipe cleaners. The women are turned upside down and inside out in smoothly performed lifts and gentle tosses for works like "Sheherezade," while in "Sequenze V11," two women and a man perform a unisex pas de trois built of witty, quirky movements alternated with construction of group sculptures.
Murphy's sense of humor is shown best in an entertaining update of "Daphnis and Chloe," the classical myth that may be responsible for the eternal double standard. While Heaven and Earth are moved to save Chloe from a fate worse than death at the hands of a motorbike gang (in place of the usual pirates), Daphnis, with impunity, turns to a local sex therapist, Lykanon, for a slide show and demo to educate him in the art of love.
Murphy seems less successful in developing dancers than in constructing ballets. Except for Janet Vernon (Lykanon), Carl Morrow (Daphnis) and Nina Veretennikova (in various small roles), most of the dancers were cherrily, competently anonymous.
Vernon and Jennifer Barry almost made sense out of Barry Moreland's dialogues, the best of the non-Murphy works to be shown. Here, two women who may be lovers, sisters or cellmates have trouble communicating while wearing Victorian dresses, but seem able to perform unison choreography as soon as they strip down to unitards.