It’s one thing to cope with pre-performance nerves before stepping out to dance on stages in Sydney, New York or London. But it’s something else entirely for a dancer to sit in the audience on opening night and watch the world premiere of their own work, performed by their colleagues.
Cass Mortimer Eipper is a dancer with the Sydney Dance Company. He has been revelling in the opportunity to create a new work with five of his colleagues as part of New Breed. It is a bold new initiative that will see three SDC dancers and two independent choreographers present new works for the company.
A keen choreographer, Mortimer Eipper was dancing with the West Australian Ballet when the then artistic director, Ivan Cavallari, recognised his talent and programmed one of his early works for the company’s main season. After four years dancing with WAB, during which he continued to choreograph, Mortimer Eipper left to co-found his own Perth-based company, Ludwig.
Last January he returned to dance full time at SDC, but wanted to continue choreographing. “It was the right decision because it’s such a rich environment [at SDC], and you’re surrounded by such creative people,” he says. “[But] I was secretly hoping I would get an opportunity to create some work, and that’s come true.”
Funding and opportunities for emerging choreographers aren’t exactly plentiful in Australia, and Mortimer Eipper jumped at the chance to be involved in New Breed. It’s a three-year partnership with the innovative Balnaves Foundation.
His work for New Breed, Dogs and Baristas, is a playful exploration of affection and the unconditional friendship people experience with both their dogs and baristas. The production, which involves some spoken word, will be set to music by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is senior dancer and choreographic newcomer Juliette Barton, who will perform her own solo work.
“I’m creating a solo, which is a massive challenge and adventure and I’m sure some people think is a little crazy,” laughs Barton. “Two years ago I would never have had the guts, but as I develop as a person, dancer and artist I think I’m ready to explore. And now I’ve been given the opportunity.”
The Perth-born dancer lived and worked in Europe for four years before returning to Australia with Spanish dancer-turned-choreographer Rafael Bonachela, who had was appointed artistic director of SDC in 2009.
Bonachela – whose work has been performed by Kylie Minogue among others – knows the value of choreographic support. “It’s about doing it, putting your ideas on the stage and seeing how it works,” he says.
Bonachela has also programmed two independent choreographers with distinct styles for New Breed. Melbourne’s Gabrielle Nankivell’s movement is high energy and theatrical. Lee Serle is the 2012 recipient of the prestigious Rolex and Protégé Initiative for dance. He was mentored by acclaimed US dance maker Trisha Brown.
While Melbourne has long been known as a hub for innovative contemporary dance, Sydney is fast creating a name for itself, largely thanks to Carriageworks. This month the five finalists in the inaugural Keir Choreographic Awards will have their works presented at the venue, and it regularly hosts visiting international dance companies.
Mortimer Eipper knows only too well how valuable it is to have a new work supported in Sydney. “We get so many opportunities as dancers [with SDC] but when I choreograph I really feel I get to use a greater percentage of who I am,” he says.
New Breed will run for five performances only at Carriageworks from November 5–8. Tickets are $35.