Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Bangarra Dance Theatre present BELONG as part of a national tour at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, Sydney.

Bangarra Dance Theatre present BELONG - a two part program of new dance consisting of ABOUT by Elma Kris an ID by Stephen Page.

ABOUT choreographed by Elma Kris "expresses my curiosity of the four winds (Gub) that make up the seasons we have in the Torres Strait Islands: Zey, Kuki, Nagay, and Sagar. I looked at the influence they have on the land, sea and sky… They are like spirits swiftly passing by, and merging with nature; they guide and nurture everyday life. I wanted to take a journey with them, travel with their moods and see how I could bring them to life through dance."

The company dancers evoke the moods and shifts in the winds in an attractive and powerful manner. Aided by a beautiful design scape by Jacob Nash, glowing in ribbons and 'lakes' of strong colour and  drawn images, with deeply detailed states of light by Matt Cox there is an enormous sophistication to the visuals of the choreography which hovers between cultural gestures and contemporary dance. The dancers were confident and secure, expressive and concentrated. The ensemble impressive. The costumes by Emma Howell were complementary and complimentary, and evocative and easily danced in. There was a magic about the impression of the accumulating movement.

The Music score was by David Page, fusing the language/poetry of the islanders with original composition, assisted by the collaboration of Steve Francis.

ID choreographed by Stephen Page "investigates what it means to be Aboriginal in the 21st century...perceptions in contemporary society." The work in five sections begins to look at the dimensions of identity that confronts the Aboriginal day to day. Initiate. Caste: Fractions/Class 7B. Totem. Discriminate. Kinship.

The second section is strikingly powerful in the imagery, to see the dancers drawn upon with different fractions, of half or quarter or full blood and more. The intertwining and strangeness of the acceptance of self strikes deeply - a dilemma  that never crosses my mind about my English/Irish make-up and conflict - because they are both 'white' there is no visible issue. From such questions of density of ethnicity big problems can grow. There is humour in the work and the contrast to the fierce incarceration scene is all the more telling for it. Its resonating power leaving an indelible image and emotion. I would have been satisfied for the work to finish there.

The dancers are best in smaller ensemble groupings in this work. The last section perhaps, at the moment, too long, or needs more tension and attention which may be gained as the season continues. The use of the Audio Visual designed by Declan McMonagle is clever and well integrated by Jacob Nash, Emma Howell and Matt Cox  into the overall design look once again. Witty and spooky.

Having Mr Nash, the Designer, on board as a Resident Artist already enhances the quality and sophistication of the look of the works. Clearly the daily interplay that the residency allows pays off in beauty and sophistication.

Bangarra a flagship company that seems to be altering and growing in its reputation. Much too admire. This program,a subtle mix of the old culture with a look at the contemporary: the mythical magic and the harder realities. Side by side. A steadier gaze into the real world of this culture is promised, one hopes it does not flinch from contextualising for the audience, contemporary truths as well as comforts. In this new stage of social reconciliation,no one , in whatever art form we are working in should be starry eyed. Rigour and understanding will come from shared knowledge.

1 comment:

Mr Mink said...

Kevin, I had not been to see Bangarra for a while so I thought I had better have a look at them during the recent Spring Dance season. I must admit that I also likely bought the ticket for them as well as DV8 and Chunky Move because of the Opera House’s rather “generous” attitude (not) to on-line booking charges – as I usually only buy tickets for myself I end up buying more shows at once! I thought the staging itself was wonderful and quite spectacular for both pieces, the costumes were really good and the choreography from Page et al., not to mention the discipline of the dancers, was first notch. I have tended perhaps to regard Bangarra as Australia’s leading indigenous cultural export, shallow and tokenistic as that is. However this production does really reveal that they are truly a “flagship” company as you say yourself. They truly deserve to be seen as a leading dance company on the world stage I think as the indigenous flavour of their productions is much more than some sort of ethnographic curiosity and spice and is seamlessly integrated. As for story lines etc, well frankly (as I commented with Human Interest Story) it’s much more how it feels and looks for me rather than what it is supposed to “mean”.