Monday, July 8, 2013


Bangarra Dance Theatre Australia present BLAK in the Drama Theatre, in the Sydney Opera House.

This year I have seen and been rewarded with some great dance experiences. The Paris Opera GISELLEBIRDS WITH SKYMIRRORS from the New Zealand company, Mau; 'G' from the Australian Dance Theatre (ADT) and the Nederlands Dans Theatre at the Sydney Opera House. These were highlights of some of my theatre going this year, which has had much to enjoy. I have always thought well of the Bangarra Dance Theatre and have been particularly admiring of the contemporary bias in the stories that the company have begun to crystallise for us in recent works: BELONG, for instance.

BLAK was a 75 minute program made of three pieces: SCAR, Concept, Direction and Choreography by Daniel Riley McKinley with the male dancers; YEARNING, Concept, Direction and Choreography by Stephen Page with the female dancers; and KEEPERS, Concept, Direction by Stephen Page with Choreography by Stephen Page and Daniel Riley McKinley and the dancers.

The Design work: the Set by Jacob Nash, the Costumes by Luke Ede, the lighting by Matt Cox were outstanding in creating a look and mood for these works. The presentational qualities had a contemporary sheen, gloss, 'magazine'-like gleam - certainly good-looking. Coupled with the throbbing and very likable cross over music scores - high grade techno and indigenous sounds - by Paul Mac and David Page, the material visual and aural qualities, were outstanding.

The thematics in the dance material were contemporary in their concept and had some yearning for social comment and political clout - admirable. However, the actual dancing was of a hugely variable standard. On the evening my friends and I saw BLAK, it seemed  that the female members of the company had a tighter grasp of the choreography and a more disciplined approach to the execution of it - they seemed to have clearer commitment to the storytelling in the movement/choreography: the opening sequence to YEARNING, BIRTH had a simple ownership, and dance skill of the concentrated joy to perform, and, to perform well.

The male dancers in the first piece, SCAR, seemed to have an approximate of what they were attempting to deliver, both, in movement and 'philosophy' - the work can only be as strong as its weakest link - there were too many of those weak links, in too many areas in the dance, to keep the work arresting or even interesting. The male dancers did not seem to have as clear a sense of ensemble as the female ensemble did, rather, a kind of competitive egotism was present.

 I know that comparisons can be odious, and the aesthetic tools and objectives, skills, may have many variables in cultural aesthetics, but any comparison of the approach that the New Zealand Company, the contemporary dance theatre: Mau, had to their dance presentation, let alone the relative sophistication of their dramaturgy and the dancers commitment and demonstration of skills to those overarching ideas, gives one pause, and, to give any but a critical viewpoint of this program, BLAK, is impossible.

The final piece, KEEPERS, with the full company, seemed poorly disciplined and repetitive in its movement/choreographic ideas, haphazard in its connection from one section to the next and clumsy in its spatial uses for effect, it often appeared cramped and clumsy - the dancers 'walking through it'. One began to wonder whether the crepuscular lighting states, that tended to make moving drama from, and of, the design assets by Mr Nash, were purposeful choices, by the artistic team, to throw the dancers into relatively secondary roles, for some of the time.

Bangarra is a full time dance company and this work, BLAK, did not seem to reflect the opportunity of development of skill and disciplines of technique to justify that privilege. When compared to the presentational skills of The Australian Dance Theatre, Mau, and the recent work from The Nederlands DansTheatre, in this work, Bangarra Dance Theatre appeared, sadly, wanting. The movement work was extremely disappointing, the intellectual rigour tending to the old 'sentimental' narrative, and, for me, seemed a step back, in what I have otherwise observed as a gradual upward trajectory in dance and dramaturgical pursuits over more recent work.

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