Now then, how to write a review of inimitable Aboriginal Dance Theatre company Bangarra. How indeed to attempt a critique upon this definitive and unrivalled work. Simply put, to have had the opportunity to see this performance was both a privilege and a joy.
Now in their 20th year - “We’ve lasted longer than ATSIC!” joked Artistic Director and company founder Stephen Page cheekily at Friday night’s post-show party – Bangarra continues to go from strength to strength. For their first Perth tour in over eight years, the company brings the double bill of True Stories, vivid interpretations of two contrasting Australian Aboriginal experiences.
The first performance of the evening is Emeret Lu, or “very old things,” and marks the debut of dancer-turned-choreographer Elma Kris. Kris weaves her rhythms with flawless symmetry, telling the ancient stories of the Torres Strait people in a dance that holds both ritual and restlessness.
Guest performer Smilar Sinak leads the ensemble through the traditional spirit dance and then steps as a solo into the wind raising with an authoritative presence of timeless granite stoicism, occasionally betraying a paradoxically lithe grace. Around him the company moves as one, in a concerto of smoothly muscled strength. They hold you to the moment, as the His Majesty’s Theatre stage trembles in awe beneath them.
We follow through the hunters and the harvesting and into a trance sequence, a pas de deux of such warmth and dexterity that I must confess is possibly one of the most sensual, sexy pieces I have ever seen, and absolutely enthralling. For me it is the highlight of the show.
After interval begins X300, so named for the Maralinga nuclear testing site of the 1950’s and bearing the quintessential trademarks of its acclaimed choreographer, Frances Rings. I am haunted by the twee British-Australian voiceover proclaiming the limited risks of testing over the “empty” desert as under flickering light the company explore South Australian-born Rings’ interpretation of a contaminated land and a poisoned people.
Coinciding with Reconciliation Week, perhaps you could venture that this work is timely, but in any time and for any week, it has the gravitas to pierce your very core as the true stories of the horrors of this occurrence (as told to Rings by members of her family) are danced into life. Thematically, the portrayal of the way these people were interfered with is incredibly disquieting and it goes perhaps without saying that this piece is not only executed with elegance and skill, but thoroughly imbued with every performer’s heart and soul.
Lingering at the end of this powerful performance is a questioning, but there is no victim-stance here; merely the level gaze that pushes the audience to ask themselves, just when will restitution for these things be made?
The eloquent contrast provided by the pairing of Emeret Lu and X300 is masterful and culminates in a highly affecting and fulfilling evening of theatre. Bangarra truly live up to their reputation and I extend to them my best wishes for their next 20 years – as well as the hope that far less than eight of those will pass before they return to Western Australia.
Bangarra Dance Theatre
Venue: His Majesty’s Theatre, 825 Hay St, Perth
Dates: Friday 29 to Saturday 30 May
Bookings: BOCS Ticketing