Graeme Murphy, Australia’s premier choreographer

17th December 2018

Labelled a national living treasure, Graeme Murphy is Australia's premier choreographer. With his passion, creativity, humour and bold imagination, he has placed Australia on the international cultural map.

This year, Murphy celebrates 50 years with The Australian Ballet. He began his dance career in the company's corps de ballet and went on to an incandescent career as the head of the Sydney Dance Company.

Murphy was born in Melbourne, and grew up in Tasmania, where he took dance classes with Kenneth Gillespie in Launceston. He began his career as a student at the Australian Ballet School at the age of 14. In 1968, he became a dancer with the Australian Ballet where he had opportunities to choreograph. He toured America with the Australian Ballet in 1970-1971 and created his first ballet, Ecco le Diavole (Ecco). Ecco was presented at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre in July 1971.The piece was set to music by Nino Rota and featured dancers Roslyn Anderson, Roma Egan, Janet Vernon, and Wendy Walker.

Later, Murphy danced with the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet (now Birmingham Royal Ballet), and Les Ballets Felix Blaska in France. In 1975, he worked as a freelance choreographer, then re-joining Australian Ballet in the early months of 1976 as both a dancer and resident choreographer. He was appointed as artistic director of the Dance Company of New South Wales in November 1976, renamed as Sydney Dance Company in 1979.

In 2016 and 2017, Martin Portus (former Director of Marketing and Communications at the Australia Council for the Arts) conducted a number of interviews with Australian choreographers, including Graeme Murphy. In the interview, Murphy discusses the highlights of various aspects of his career as a dancer and choreographer; his teenage training at the Australian Ballet School and early work as a classical dancer with the Australian Ballet; developing his interest in choreography and contemporary dance in the early 1970s; the beginnings of his lifelong creative partnership with Janet Vernon; the formation of the Sydney Dance Company and his appointment as artistic director in 1976; his signature productions involving theatrical spectacle, powerful storytelling, collaboration with Australian composers, and innovative set and costume designs; his constant touring overseas and work with Australian ballet, the financial disasters which prompted him to leave the Sydney Dance Company after 31 years; his work and aspirations.

This year, the Australian Ballet paid tribute with a production dedicated to Murphy’s work, ‘Murphy, Australia’s Iconic Dancemaker.’Executive Director, Libby Christie said, “It is right and proper that we  begin our 56th season by celebrating the work of one of Australia’s great cultural leaders, the country’s premier choreographer, Graeme Murphy. An esteemed member of The Australian Ballet Family, Graeme has played a vital role in our company’s history over the past 50 years as a dancer, a choreographer and an inspiration to us all. We are thrilled to pay tribute to this remarkable artist.”

What an illustrious tribute to the successful career of a master of dance and choreography.

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