Dunstan Playhouse, Wed Oct 22
Rekindling the Aboriginal culture of Australia in a breathtaking dance experience.
The stunning Bangarra Dance Theatre performed two of their signature dance works, Brolga and ID, presenting contemporary Aboriginal culture as one that is rooted in ancient knowledge and spirituality, which is still alive today. The works are choreographed by the Artistic Director of the company, Stephen Page, accompanied by unique music by Dave Page and Steve Francis. Both works share knowledge about Aboriginal culture with all Australians.
Brolga lingers in the imagination long after the performance finishes. It is the story of a young girl who finds herself in the sacred land of the Brolgas and through a series of encounters with the flock ‘she takes us on a spiritual journey where human beings blend with nature’. From the start where we hear the sound of wind and the beautiful sounds of an Aboriginal language we know we are in a special place.
The gravitas and presence of the lone Aboriginal woman elder we see at first tells us that we are in a place of something timeless and sacred. The large natural form through which the girl appears adds to this feeling. We see her greeted and supported by the elder and we watch as she dances with and learns from the birds. The dancing mimics the movement of the Brolgas with their elongated legs and their wings represented by the placement of the dancers’ hands behind their backs. It is a very sensual and fluid dance as the girl is introduced to the knowledge that will help her to become a woman.
The music includes use of traditional instruments such as didgeridoos and clapping sticks as well as more ethereal music that reflects the sacredness of the place. The costumes echo the appearance of the birds with their feathers and striking markings on the head. The young girl begins her journey in a simple white dress replacing this with her Brolga colours in a moment of transformation that seems like an act of magic. This moment of transformation is very striking as it is unexpected. The audience responded very warmly to this piece with cheers and loud applause.
The second dance work, ID, is longer and more powerful in its range. It investigates what it means to be an Aboriginal in the 21st century. We watch a series of vignettes depicting different aspects of identity; some very challenging, some humorous. The stage and set design combine with the music to create a specific mood and place for each vignette. The themes of the interconnectedness of people with nature continue in this dance work.
The piece begins with a striking sequence where the dancers move in an out of a faded photograph projected as a backdrop to the dancing. The dancers appear singly, in pairs or in groups providing an opportunity for different members of the ensemble to shine. Many of the movements require split second timing and transitions are achieved effortlessly. As in Brolga there is a strong presence of traditional instruments as well as images reinforcing the importance of elders.
Some vignettes highlight difficult experiences, such as the segment called Butcher where the body of a young woman is being indifferently manipulated or Discriminate where a young man is dying in agony and pain in front of our eyes only to be coldly removed by the officials. The sounds of a clanging metal door repeatedly closing accompany this vignette reminding us about deaths in custody or the incarceration of Aboriginal people. Another highlight is Bark with its references to canoe trees, fire, and smoke in Aboriginal culture. This scene was particularly beautiful with the lighting that enhanced the trees on stage.
There were some lighter moments such as in Class 7B where an entertaining group of students are fooling around in typical student fashion but who finally conform by painting their faces black using Vegemite. The final vignette brings the entire ensemble together dancing in a snakelike formation with a backdrop of a woman’s face being painted in traditional white lines – painstakingly slowly following the correct way to do so. The music is stronger and more positive in this final piece – a celebration of Aboriginal culture and its survival.
This is the 25th anniversary of Bangarra Dance Theatre. In that time it has grown into an iconic Australian dance company telling stories about the First Australians to International audiences and here in Australia. The company shares knowledge to celebrate and maintain the oldest living culture in the world. It is a company all Australians should be proud of and support.
by Taissa Ceric
Bangarra Dance Theatre performs Kinship at the Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, until Sat Oct 25.