Left – (Sheoak) Bangarra ensemble. Photo – Lisa Tomasetti. Cover – (I.B.I.S) Kyle Shilling with Bangarra ensemble. Photo – Edward Mulvihill
When it comes to dance there are few Australian companies that conjure the same respect as Bangarra. In 2014 the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dance company celebrated their 25th anniversary. The current production, lore: dance stories of land and sea, tells two stories through contemporary dance with the Company’s hallmark verve that has been acclaimed both locally and internationally.
The first story, choreographed by Lead Torres Strait Island dancers Deborah Brown and Waangenga Blanco, revolves around a Torres Strait Island community and it’s local supermarket I.B.I.S. (Islanders Board of Industry and Service). It is Blanco and Brown’s debut as choreographers on the mainstage for Bangarra.
Brown and Blanco drew their inspiration from the real life I.B.I.S store whose ethos maintains a strong social conscience and strengthens the economy through local job opportunities for Torres Strait Islanders.
The pair have captured the heart of I.B.I.S. in this tale. The opening act is vibrant and there is a sense of community right from the start. Customer dance dynamic stories threading modern life in the I.B.I.S stores with ancient culture that still resonates today. Shopping baskets and sardine cans are among impromptu props that add rhythm to the already captivating music by Steve Francis. The imagery of silhouetted women languishing in the heat of the sun pressing their cheeks up to the glass of the refrigerators and sighing when the doors open and the cool air tumbles over them resonates with all of us who have spent hot summer days in Australia.
The culture of Torres Strait Islanders is honored by extraordinary sequences in the Turtle Egg dance. Turtles come to lay their eggs on the beaches and the women who embody these turtles give you an insight into not only human life but marine life and the connection these share. In this dance the costumes and lighting shine as their simple yet beautifully symbolic designs take you from world of humans to the beach that has always been a place were turtles lay their eggs before returning to the sea.
The final scene in the I.B.I.S. quartet, Ooura, was powerful. The dancers had such joy in their faces and power in their feet. It was an amazing combination. The pride and happiness they conveyed through their bodies left me feeling a great respect for not only the ability of the dancers themselves but the culture they represent.
You could watch I.B.I.S. many times and feel a different story. Each dancer is a story unto themselves. Blanco and Brown’s chorography, the ensembles performance, Steve Francis’s music and Jennifer Irwin’s costume designed all worked together beautifully and the thunderous applause at the end of the performance was well deserved.
The second story is Sheoak, an emotional tale of the land, choreographed by the highly renowned Bangarra veteran Frances Rings. The dancers convey both the beauty and the beast that lie within this tale.
Long branches are danced around the stage. They are smooth and beautiful, at some times resembling a rib cage of some extinct beast at others creating a forest that sways gently with Mother Nature’s breath.
Rings’ choreography and the male ensemble’s performance of Synthetic Seed is remarkably unsettling, a violent and foreboding energy stays with you long after the curtain has gone down. There is a madness to the men which felt barely controlled as they clashed with the now hanging branches.
The score for this piece by the highly respected David Page was magnificent. It left spaces on the stage as well as filled them. It was a soundscape of creaking branches and the heart beat not only of a single seed but of an entire cultural ancestry born with that seed. Page’s music supports the ensemble as they twist and turn their way from bright beginnings to much darker places and back again.
These two remarkable performances I.B.I.S and Sheoak where danced by the same ensembles. Two very different stories with vastly different energies.
Bangarra Dance Theatre presents
a double bill
Sheoak (2015) | Choreography Frances Rings
I.B.I.S (2015) | Choreography Waangenga Blanco & Deborah Brown
Sydney Sydney Opera House, Sydney From 11 June
Canberra Canberra Theatre Centre, Canberra 9 – 11 July
Wollongong Merrigong Theatre Company, Wollongong 23 – 25 July
Brisbane Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane 7 – 15 August
Melbourne Arts Centre Melbourne, Melbourne 28 August – 5 September