For Emeret Lu, Elma Kris visited Murray Island to meet with the Elders to hear their stories and to witness first-hand the fertile land that is steeped in myth and spiritual resonance. Kris choreographs a rich portrayal of Murray Island blending traditional rituals with more abstract depictions to capture the spiritual element of the local culture and the intrinsic connection between the people and the sea and land.
The work opens with guest performer, Smilar Sinak, who himself is part islander, acting as the head chief to the ‘tribal group’. The striking set is a curved bamboo structure which becomes the playground for the dancers as they emerge in their spectacular costumes inspired by traditional Meriam dress. The music and choreography too largely resonates traditional song and dance with a contemporary twist in Steve Francis’ original soundtrack, which carefully balances electronic sounds with live recordings of singing and reciting.
Emeret Lu is structured like a typical day starting with a Rain Dance moving into Hunters where the male dancers carry long weaved baskets across their shoulders in the manner of a ‘kab kar’ dance then slowing down into Harvesting. In contrast to the vigorous feet-stomping of the men colourfully painted in tribal colours, the females in the Harvesting sequence demonstrate the grace and calm of the island also wearing more earth-coloured tones. There is a sensual duet between Jasmin Sheppard and Waagenga Blanco in Trance where there is a curious tension in the choreography. Blanco, in a ritualistic sequence, uses a long piece of blue fabric to smudge the paint on his body. Taking the fabric, he then uses it to wrap and manipulate Sheppard. Neither romantic nor erotic, the fluid movement is almost mystical in its ambiguity.
Frances Rings’ work is equally powerful and because of the relevance and significance of the content, is relatively more emotional. X300, which was the codename for the nuclear test site at Maralinga, is a series of chapters focusing on different aspects of the event. Rings not only explores the traumatic effects on the people but also places the event in time featuring frenzied dancers jiving to rock and roll, and using real news footage reporting the bombings. The result of contextualising adds a degree of stark reality which makes sequences such as Guinea Pig, where we see Sidney Saltner rip off his clothes in agony to expose his bleeding sores, all the more haunting.
Rings’ choreography is extremely physically demanding with much of it relying on upper body strength. In Fallout, Deborah Brown, Waagenga Blanco, Katina Olsen and Daniel Riley McKinley partner up to perform a fast-paced series of seemingly effortless contortions, lifts, tumbles and body rolls. There are also superb performances by Yolande Brown and Jhuny-Boy Borja and a particularly memorable solo by Patrick Thaiday in Blackmist where each striking movement releases a mist of white powder. With his long lithe limbs, Thaiday is not afraid to take over the expanse of the space, majestically commanding us to attention.
Working with Rings’ dynamic choreography is a compelling musical score by David Page featuring orchestral instruments and piano. Set designer, Genevieve Dugard, creates a stage that morphs with each transition; white neon tubular lighting for the radiation examination and a large structure with fragments of amber glass alluding to the chrystallisation of sand during intense moments of heat. X300 is gripping from start to end.
The best thing about watching a Bangarra production is that there seems to consistently be a real sense of genuine pride and belief across the entire company in what they do. While a dance company, the Bangarra is also more importantly a cultural and educational life-force for Australia. True Stories is yet another stunning, must-see production.
Bangarra Dance Theatre presents
Venue: Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Dates: Aug 2 - Sept 1
Bookings: www.sydneyoperahouse.com or 02 9250 7777