As a child, the choreographer sat under the keyboard while his mother played – he just wishes he’d learned to play piano.

My earliest musical memory is sitting under the keyboard while my mother played. Her keyboard abilities were pretty good and they peppered my entire childhood. She was a teacher at country schools mostly, and she produced school concerts in coronation halls with an amazing variety of music. She’d hit the classics, but she’d also play for country barn dances. It was a period when people came to each other’s houses and all ended up round a piano. It was such a part of my childhood, and my greatest regret is that I never formally learnt to play, even though I murder a show tune occasionally.

Graeme MurphyChoreographer Graeme Murphy

Growing up, I didn’t have the opportunity to go to concerts as mine was a country existence. But I do remember the arrival of the record player and buying vinyl. I was amazed and my taste was quite experimental. Ravel crept into my early favourites, and Debussy, but I was wildly eclectic. There was nothing I woudn’t give a go. It probably wasn’t until I started going to dance classes that I actually started hearing recordings of classical excerpts. Launceston was a very Eistedfodd town and there was a lot going on from that point of view.

At the ballet school we had a Russian pianist who played Prokofiev and things like that so it was always fun. Then I started exploring French music and I ended up going to France. At one point, I was in a contemporary dance company, and the company pianists were the Labèque sisters! Berio was part of the repertoire. France in that period – we’re talking about the 70s – was incredibly vibrant. It was a fairly small company in Grenoble, but it had amazing live music and that was both extraordinary and eye-opening.

I often hear music in terms of movement and the possibilities that it holds for dance. I’ve never been one of those people who think there is ‘dance music’ and ‘other music’. I think there is good music and bad music, and I’m only interested in good music.

I’ve been blessed by the fact that during my career I’ve been able to commission lots of scores. That’s been the richest experience of my creative life – that wonderful collaboration between artists that happens at the birth of a work. Carl Vine and Graeme Koehne were incredibly influential, both musically and choreographically. Carl, ironically, was a pianist at Sydney Dance Company in the early days of the company.

I’m currently directing and choreographing an Opera Conference production of The Merry Widow. I’ve set it in the world of Art Deco, and not in turn of the century Vienna. It’s got a crunchier, sharper edge to it with stunning sets by Michael Scott-Mitchell. They’re visually wonderful – Art Deco salons and a huge Monet Garden. Meanwhile, I’m trying to scrape some of the barnacles off, because after a century or more, works do gather barnacles. I’ve had new scenarios written by Justin Fleming, who has gone very much back to the original, and it’s been quite wonderful to work with him on that aspect of it. I just want to keep things pacey and lively and clean.

Nowadays, my radio dial is glued to ABC Classic FM. In my line of work, hearing more and more different music and more experimental music is really important, and I find that a cross-section can take you to many places. I no longer listen to a lot of popular songs, though I have worked with every style of music, I suspect. There’s nothing I ban, put it that way – except boredom.


Prokofiev Piano Concerto No 3 
Martha Argerich p, Berlin Philharmonic/Claudio Abbado DG 4474382

I go through phases. I’ve been through my Szymanowski phase and a very big Kancheli phase. It’s strange how there is some music that introduces you to brand new worlds. As a young dancer in the Australian Ballet, I was cast in a work called Jeunesse, which was choreographed to the Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto, and I remember the influence that had on me, just expanding my world in terms of what piano music could be.

The Merry Widow plays at His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth, July 15 – 22 and Arts Centre Melbourne, November 15 – 25.