I never cease to be amazed at the beauty, and dramatic strength of the Bangarra Dance Theatre with its ingenious blending of traditional indigenous movement and modern dance.
Lore was no exception. The energy and skill of the troupe and the creation of storytelling with music and dance, which is done superbly and with great passion was just enthralling. The musical sounsdscape with the addition of live vocals and on-stage percussion was spine tingling at times and heart-breaking at others. Karen Norris’s lighting plot and Jennifer Irwin’s costume design along with Jacob Nash’s stage design also helped to create a mystic, dreaming mood. The dancing was at times frenetic and violent and others sinuous and mysterious as the tales unfolded.
There are two parts to the program, the 42- minute long “I.B.I.S.” and the 52 minute long “Sheoak”.
“I.B.I.S.” is an acronym for Island Board of Industry and Services, small local supermarkets that exist on several of the Torres Strait islands and, in four parts, it tells the story of modern day hunters and gatherers with their wire baskets and the more traditional hunt for turtle eggs. The show opened with Waangenga Blanco strumming his guitar while Elma Kris mopped the floor singing along to “You Are My Sunshine” in Mariam Mer language. This was followed by the fascinating Sardine Song, with dancers packed into imaginary tins. It was an engaging start but the full power of the dance came out in the Turtle and Freezer segments. In these the indigenous attachment to land and water were beautifully and often light-heartedly performed, with incredible choreography in which the ensembles stalked the cleverly imitated human turtles, and with sensuous delight collected the eggs. Then back at the store the hunters and gatherers checked out the freezer which ended with a stunning work called Crayfish where the entire company slithered and slid in an amorphous mass. It created a visual image that is still in my head.
“Sheoak” is an esoteric piece, (Place, Body and Spirit) that creates despair and hope in the same story. The land of old growth scar trees has fallen. Its keeper (Elma Kris) mourns its loss and the people must adapt to the new way of life. It opened with a swirling mass of bodies as the whole ensemble created the mystical tree and then the poignant choreography and music showed the destruction and the scattering of the seeds, danced by the female ensemble while the men were trees, using a series of branches hanging from the flies, swinging in the wind. The men fought the elements, themselves, and the invasion of their spiritual life by the invaders. Finally, the birth of a spirit, superbly danced with evocative lighting effect by Nicola Sabatino and Tara Robertson, brought hope for change and renewal and the sprits are joined by the dancers in Birthrights and Ancestor’s Call.
Bangarra Dance Theatre has been around for 25 years now under the stewardship of Stephen Page. With the quality, style and imagination the company produced, there is no doubt it will be around for another 25.
Company: Bangarra Dance Theatre
Venue: Playhouse Theatre, QPAC, Brisbane
Dates: 7 – 25 August 2015
For more of Eric Scott’s writings on theatre, check out Absolute Theatre
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television