10 June, 2020
Beyond Twelve premiered at the Sydney Opera House in 1980. It was Graeme Murphy’s first narrative-based work for The Australian Ballet and was created on one of the company’s leading principal dancers, Kelvin Coe. The story follows a young boy on his journey to manhood and the central figure is made up of three roles: the Boy, the Adolescent and the Adult. We are also introduced to a range of comical characters that help elevate the mood as youthful energy makes way for maturity and the realisation that nothing can last for ever.
David Burch, Kelvin Coe and David Palmer in Beyond Twelve, The Australian Ballet, 1980
Photograph by Branco Gaica. Image courtesy The Australian Ballet
Murphy’s characters inhabit an urban setting that would be familiar to most Australians. Still new to the role of Artistic Director of the Sydney Dance Company at the time, he had been exploring “that home-grown thing, the parochial if you like, to make people feel more comfortable about contemporary dance.”i His interest in the suburban dream resulted in Rumours for the Sydney Dance Company in 1978. The entire second act of this work was dedicated to Sydney’s Lady Jane nudist beach and was visual artist Alan Oldfield’s introduction to designing for the stage. His colourful spinnaker-sail backcloth captured the essence of Australia’s obsession with the great outdoors.
Graduating from the National Art School in Sydney in 1966, Oldfield held his first solo exhibition at the Watters Gallery the same year. After winning the Young Contemporaries Prize in 1970, he travelled overseas where his style soon shifted away from abstraction towards realism. By the late 1970s Oldfield had established himself as one of Australia’s leading figurative painters and his work continued to feature extensively in solo exhibitions in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne throughout the 1980s.
Through Murphy, Oldfield was introduced to the world of dance and invited to design the sets and costumes for Rumours. Knowing little about dance, he had initially declined Murphy’s offer but after seeing Poppy, another of Murphy’s works for Sydney Dance Company, he found himself falling hard for the artform and agreed to take on the job. Oldfield’s use of strong colour was new to the company but enhanced the dreamlike quality of the work.
Set design by Alan Oldfield for Beyond Twelve, The Australian Ballet, 1980
Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998. Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
The great outdoors also feature in Oldfield’s designs for Beyond Twelve, his second commission for dance and his one and only for The Australian Ballet. The sun drenched, suburban landscape with football oval in the foreground creates a familiar setting and the quintessential back-drop for an Australian coming-of-age story. The art of hand-balling and perfecting a drop punt are soon replaced by the joys of dance in Beyond Twelve but both require grace and athleticism and the natural interplay between football and dance are a joy to watch on stage. This “unashamedly local”ii viewpoint, along with the universal themes of life, love and what lies beyond, make Beyond Twelve a work that will continue to resonate with generations to come.
Curator, Dance & Opera
Australian Performing Arts Collection
Title image: Detail of set design by Alan Oldfield for Beyond Twelve, The Australian Ballet, 1980
i Graeme Murphy, Icons (program), The Australian Ballet, 2012
ii David McAllister, Icons (program), The Australian Ballet, 2012