For tens of thousands of years Aboriginal dance has been performed in the land around what we call the Brisbane River. Bangarra’s spellbinding dances are in that tradition, yet they also connect with the impulses of modern contemporary dance.
This production starts challengingly with Massacre, a passage which deals directly with the facts of colonial history all too often overlooked. It goes on to deal with the three worlds of Water, Fire and Earth.
Artistic director and choreographer Stephen Page puts a symbolic Child at the centre of the artistic journey, reclaiming the energy of the past and becoming the keeper of sacred customs. Significantly, Page uses his own son and his nephew, son of the late Russell Page, Stephen’s brother, to alternate in this role, guided by the masterful Djakapurra Munyarryun from Arnhem Land.
The world of Water (Gapu) includes the traditional songs Rain Cloud, Manta Ray and Canoe. Patrick Thaiday (like Bille Brown, a boy from Biloela), dances powerfully as the Manta Ray. The influence of the Torres Strait Islands is evident, not surprisingly as Thaiday’s parents hail from Iama and Erub.
The world of Fire confronts the inferno of social problems like alcohol and suicide. This is no sentimental, sanitised version of indigenous culture. It has the candour and directness of great art, just as Hogarth’s famous painting Gin Lane forced eighteenth century England to face up to the horrors of alcohol abuse. And the world of Earth returns us to a cleansing of the spirit.
The set design by Peter England uses a red wall, akin to a human skin with ritual scars, and the music by David Page and Steve Francis continues in this strain, drawing on the traditional songs and stories of the Yirrkala people of Arnhem Land (incidentally the very first people to bring a land rights action in the courts, way back in the 1970s). The music makes no artificial distinction between traditional and contemporary culture, infusing the sensations of today with the reflective memory of yesterday.
Bangarra Dance Theatre is engaged in a rich and honest exploration of the contemporary art of Australia, and still sparkle in the contemporary dance landscape. Like the best art, their productions teach as well as delight.
Artistic Director and Choreographer: Stephen Page
Playing until 2nd July at 7.30pm
Running time 1 hour 40 minutes (no interval)