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Underland Coming Across The Ditch

Underland Coming Across The Ditch

By Yasmine Ryan

Soloist Katie Ripley, a dancer in Steven Petronio’s Underland, spoke about the art of dance to Scoop. Underland, described by Dance Australia as “truly excellent multimedia dance theatre,” first opened in May 2003, at the Sydney Opera House. In its first overseas performance, Underland will be dazzling audiences in Auckland, followed by Wellington, from 10 November.


The music in Underland would alone worth seeing the show for. Choreographer Steven Petronio has sculpted the performance around a soundtrack which describes as an archaeological dig through Cave’s most beautiful masterpieces.

Cave’s music sets the tone for Underland. Katie Ripley says she enjoyed going to the studio each day and dancing to the music of one of her favourite Australian artists: “His music is very dark and ambiguous and melancholy, he likes to explore the dark side of himself.” Eight of Cave’s songs are used unaltered in Underland, while four have been adapted.

One of these adapted songs, drawn from Cave’s original “The Weeping”, is “Prelude to Weep”, which is Ripley’s solo. “Prelude to Weep” has been noted by Australian critics as being a highlight to the show. Says Ripley of the piece: “there’s no singing, there’s no drums, there’s no guitars – it’s entirely stripped of all instruments except the piano and haunting chimes of the xylophone.” Her solo is “full of many intricate movements which are classically based but still abstract… It’s very intricate, fast-paced, but almost looks like I’m at ease.” She likens it to “entering life alone, leaving life alone, life’s journey, love/hate, passion/pain, and everything in between. It’s beautiful.”

For her performance in Underland, Ripley was nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Female Dancer in the 2003 Australian Dance Awards: "I was just very pleased to be nominated. But competitions and awards really don’t mean much to me, I don’t see how you can judge art, in many respects. But it was lovely none the less. But this piece is very special to me, so I think it’s probably the icing on the cake.

While the dancers of the Sydney Dance Company are all classically trained, choreographer Petronio – himself a dancer – is not. This has had a strong influence on the development of Underland’s choreography according to Ripley: “It’s much more in parallel, whereas, as a classical dancer, everything’s turned out. Movement with Steven is very natural and very easy on the body. Even though in some sections it’s quite intense, you don’t feel when you walk away at the end of the evening that you’re ripped to shreds...His style is a very natural way of moving and it’s one that I found it really easy to adapt to.”

One peculiarity the entire cast of Underland needed to adapt to was dancing barefooted, which, says Ripley, gives the dance a more “organic” movement: “it’s quite liberating actually”. Petronio also gave the dancers a certain degree of creative freedom. Ripley enjoyed being given that responsibility from a choreographer, “he used each individual’s strengths, and drew from there to let them grow to work into his vision of what Underland became, the conception of Underland.”

Underland is a non-narrative piece, although, notes Ripley, there are undertones of a theme. “I always feel when after a show of a non-narrative piece, someone comes up to me and says “So what actually was it about?” I think it’s up to the individual to make up their mind, of what the show was about. Yeah, I think it’s a very personal thing, you’ll definitely come away feeling uplifted, positive towards life, there’s a lot of beauty in life, that life is hard and there’s struggles, and that will come through in the choreography, but also in the design, and the costumes definitely, to some extent.”



Performance Times Wednesday - Friday 7.30pm Saturday 5pm & 8.30pm

Ticket Prices*
Premium $75.95 A Reserve $65.95 /$59.95 conc B Reserve $55.95/49.95 conc C Reserve $45.95 Group 6+ (A Res) $49.95

* service fees will apply

Book at Ticketek: (09) 307 5000 or

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