Before the stage lights go up the theatre fills with the loud, bass sounds of a didgeridoo. It reverberates through the audience. It is both resplendent and centering. I felt my breathing slowing down, becoming calm. In that single musical moment, before the dance begins, composers David Page and Paul Mac encapsulate two of the main ideas of Bangarra’s latest show, Blak. The first is the importance of keeping a spiritual relationship with country. The second is that the sound-scape will play a major role in this production.
Blak is very much a collaborative work. Over more than 20 years, Stephen Page has developed his own unique and exquisite dance language which seamlessly combines contemporary and indigenous dance. David Page has achieved a similar, brilliantly integrated musical language. Renowned electro musician, Paul Mac works together with resident composer, David Page. It is a clever combination that allows an injection of a vibrant new sound from Mac, whilst maintaining the signature musical elements of a Bangarra production.
Stephen Page continues his tradition of nurturing young artists from his company and has handed the choreographic reigns over to Daniel Riley McKinley who creates the first work in the program, Scar, which expresses the sense of disaffection among young urban indigenous men. This is a high octane, masculine work contrasting the rites of passage into manhood in an urban context and the reaffirming affect of reconnecting with country. The dancers are wonderful to watch as they brawl and clash against Mac’s score and intermittent police sirens. It is impressive to see Riley Mckinley making use of the dance language that Page has created but putting his own mark on it. He uses repetitive dance moves to the point they become mesmeric. The sound scape goes at full throttle, sometimes however, that wall of sound, as brilliant as it is, eclipses the drama on stage.
The female dancers are stunning as they perform the second work, Yearning. More nuanced and emotionally affecting than Scar, it demonstrates the depth of experience of its creators, the Page brothers. Stephen Page works his famously powerful and lyrical magic as he choreographs a set of small, complex narratives about suicide, domestic violence, the relationship between language and identity and the value of celebrating country and ritual. This work is more intimate, personal and emotionally detailed and is the real heart of the production. Moreover, it is the artistic highlight of the evening.
David Page is the main composer for Yearning and while Mac’s electronic musical style remains central, in Page’s hands the score is more sensitively attuned to the emotional narrative of the dance. It has more light and shade and points of interest. The use of language and voice, for instance really added a layer of meaning and heightened the emotional impact of the narratives.
The final work, Keepers, brings together the full company and both sets of choreographers and composers in a celebration of traditional knowledge and ceremony. It is a gorgeous, celebratory and spiritual piece.
Like Luke Ede’s costumes, Max Cox’s impressive lighting designs set the tone for each of the three, distinctly different works: urban, domestic and country. Set designer, Jacob Nash keeps the sets judiciously spare until Keepers, where he creates a waterfall over a massive rock. It reminded me of the beautiful textural, concrete extrusions by the sculptor, Anish Kapoor.
This collaboration is a real success. David Page’s work has undoubtedly been reinvigorated by the collaboration with Mac, whose contemporary musicianship provided an urban edge. Conversely, as a first time composer for dance, the very talented Paul Mac could not have been blessed with a more skilful and experienced mentor than David Page in the art of creating a score that underpins the emotional language of the choreography.
I loved this show. At the end of it I felt like having a quick drink, going back into the theatre and watching it all over again. And I wasn’t alone. Going down to the car park, a woman in the lift declared she would be back next week for a second and maybe third viewing.
Bangarra Dance Theatre presents
Venue: Sydney Opera House, Drama Theatre
Dates: June 7 – 22, 2013
Tickets: $89 – $29
Bookings: sydneyoperahouse.com | 02 9250 7777