Photos – Jeff Busby
Bangarra Dance Theatre’s double-barrel presentation performances are one of the best things about the Sydney company. Aside from offering two remarkable experiences for the price of one, such performances also manage to demonstrate the company’s considerable flexibility and variety.
When one initially learns of Bangarra’s mission statement of creating world-class theatre works informed by Australian indigenous culture, it’s easy to get swept away by preconceptions regarding their output. Performances like Belong (or last year’s equally gorgeous Of Earth and Sky), however, are representative of a company unlikely to ever be summarised by such superficial presumptions.
Of course, the flipside of this format is that it’s rare that that the two pieces will be of genuinely uniform quality. The aforementioned Of Earth and Sky saw Daniel Riley McKinley’s ephemeral Riley upstage Frances Rings’ gripping (but somewhat meandering) Artefact, and Belong suffers from a similar discrepancy.
Opening the production, Elma Kris’ About is a decidedly less vital work when compared with Stephen Page’s ID. One cannot argue with the beauty of Kris’ choreography or the company’s impeccable execution thereof: Kris evinces precise skill when choreographing for ensembles and the interplay between the company’s soloists and chorus members is both accomplished and beautiful.
Unfortunately, the choreographer’s grasp of narrative isn’t quite as refined. Upon consulting the program notes, one can assemble the piece’s conceptual conceit (a tale encompassing the various pivotal moments glimpsed by the winds as they race across the land) but, without the benefit of an exegesis, the work is difficult to grasp. Beautiful – but transient.
These shortcomings, meanwhile, are compounded by Stephen Page’s remarkable ID. A series of meditations on the concept of identity as it applies to contemporary indigenous Australians, ID is, in turns, poignant, surreal and brutal but always masterfully constructed, innately compelling and surprisingly insightful.
Page’s strength is image. While one may not grasp the significance of his work initially (or the precision of the choreography employed), it’s rare that one isn’t sufficiently captivated by an image within each piece he’s presented. As those images embed themselves in one’s mind more permanently, a greater understanding of Page’s work tends to unfold.
The most visceral scene in ID, for example, involves a deeply disturbing re-enactment of a violent hate crime. The image of an indigenous male’s prostrate body being dragged away in a tarpaulin will undoubtedly stay in the mind of audiences for years to come. One could actually feel the audience hesitate before applauding after the piece’s conclusion.
At the other end of the spectrum, you have an abstract composition involving a series of dances tattooed with fractions. Initially, it’s difficult to understand what Page is getting at but the hook of the image forces one to invest greater contemplation of the message. This is largely why ID proves so much more rewarding than About.
That said – the beauty of the production is that it presents two contrasting works. It just so happens that the latter’s collagist nature and visceral experimentation appeals more to the tastes of this particular reviewer. It isn’t difficult to imagine some audiences preferring the more fluid beauty of the former.
At the end of the day, Bangarra Dance Theatre really should be applauded for being flexible and accommodating enough to actually allow people the option to choose between such extremes.
Bangarra Dance Theatre presents
Venue: Playhouse, QPAC, South Bank, Brisbane
Dates: 1 – 9 Jul 2011
Tickets: $29 - $59
Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House 19 July - 20 August, opening night Wednesday 20 July
Bookings: sydneyoperahouse.com Ph: 02 9250 7777
Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA 25 - 28 August, opening night Thursday 25 August Bookings: statetheatrecentrewa.com.au Ph: 08 9484 1133
Canberra Theatre Centre 2 - 3 September, opening night Friday 2 September
Bookings: canberratheatrecentre.com.au Ph: 02 6275 2700
Merrigong Theatre Company, IMB Theatre, IPAC 8 ? 10 September, opening night Thursday 8 September Bookings: merrigong.com.au Ph: 02 4224 5999
Playhouse Theatre, The Arts Centre 15 - 24 September, opening night Friday 16 September
Bookings: theartscentre.com.au ph 1300 182 183