The audience in the Princess Theatre for The Australian Ballet's inaugural Choreographic Workshop in 1971 may have felt a frisson as they watched Ecco le Diavole. It was the first work of a budding choreographer called Graeme Murphy, and history was being made.
Murphy was picked out by Margaret Scott, the director of The Australian Ballet School, at the age of just 14. He joined The Australian Ballet in 1968; he danced with the company and overseas, and freelanced as a choreographer, before taking the helm of the Dance Company (NSW), later the Sydney Dance Company. Over the next 30 years, Murphy, with his partner and artistic associate Janet Vernon at his side, would stream through the dance world like a comet, making countless works for his company and fostering the careers of Stephen Page (now director of Bangarra Dance Theatre) and Gideon Obarzanek (who went on to direct Chunky Move).
As well as enriching the Sydney cultural scene and making his mark internationally (choreographing for the likes of Mikhail Baryshnikov and Nederlands Dans Theater), Murphy returned several times to The Australian Ballet to create work, each time lifting its dancers to inspired heights. Ballets like Swan Lake, Nutcracker - The Story of Clara and Beyond Twelve found permanent places in the repertoire. Swan Lake, in particular, was a case of enduring love: we have performed it almost every year since its creation in 2002. Generations of dancers have grown up with Swan Lake, moving from minor roles to stardom, and almost all of our principal artists started out carrying trays of champagne in the ballroom scene or fluttering around the frozen lake before moving up the ranks and dancing the lead roles.
What Murphy teaches our dancers is what makes him a great choreographer: fearless partnering; deep, authentic emotion; sophisticated musicality; a sensual breadth of movement; and a distinctly Australian sense of humour that punctures pomposity.
Here are some of his precious gifts to us.