Rachel Pupazzoni

Bangarra: A review

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As if imitating, through performance, a recent tragedy for the Banagrra clan, its latest season was an evening of melancholy, considered thought, confronting imagery and a standing ovation to end.

OUR land people stories is the company’s latest triple bill of contemporary works.  It’s dedicated to David Page, the company’s music director who died suddenly in April.

The evening opened with a piece created in 2013 by choreographer Jasmin Sheppard.  Macq chronicles the impact of Governor Lachlan Macqaurie on Indigenous Australia.  The first scene; a woman wailing over a dead body.  I suddenly realised, this was not going to be the fun night I’d promised my fellow ticket-holder.

Macq was first performed in 2013 as part of Dance Clan 3.  David Page composed the music.  So no doubt for the company, this was an emotional piece to perform.  And emotional and confronting it certainly was to watch.

From the wailing woman, to the mad scene of Macquarie – this was tough viewing.  I inhaled a short, sharp breath when the lights faded up on what appeared to be three bodies hanging. As the light grew brighter, but was still dim with an eery glow, I realised the three men were being held by three other men.  But this imagery was clear, and in your face.  These men depicted the many hangings ordered by Macquarie.  As the six men moved, creating even more confronting images, I began to relax into the piece and eventually found it beautiful, as the light fell on their bodies while they created the fluid shapes.  It was the best part of the piece.

The second piece in the evening’s repertoire was new work Miyagan, created by company dancers Daniel Riley and Beau Dean Riley Smith.  They describe it as a ‘poignant dance story mapping their cultural heritage in a discovery of their family background on Wiradjuri country in New South Wales’.

The standout for me in this piece was the set.  Designed by Head of Design Jacob Nash, this set grew and improved.  It starts as a couple of huge branches hanging in the middle of the stage, with giant feathers on them.  Bathed in golden light, it was striking.  As the piece went on, more and more feathered branches  joined the original.  It was very impressive.

feathered set

The feathered set of Miyagan. Image from Bangarra Facebook page.

I liked seeing what I would describe as ‘traditional’ steps in the choreography.  As a non-Indigenous person, I won’t claim to know anything about traditional Indigenous dance steps, but I felt like I saw a lot more of it in this piece than in the first.  And I liked that.

Helpmann and ARIA award winner Paul Mac created the music for this work.  It was varied, with changes in pace throughout.  Which was good.  The dancing reflected that.  But the music/sound was way too loud.  It made watching this piece uncomfortable and it distracted me.  (Am I getting too old?)

The final piece was Artistic Director, Stephen Page’s, Nyapanyapa.  It’s based on the work and life story of the artist Nyapanyapa Yunupingu from North East Arnhem Land.  Composer Steve Francis, who’s created scores for eight Bangarra productions, created the sound for this piece.

This work had what I came to see.   A story about Aboriginal life told simply and beautifully, the sounds of Indigenous voices and music, stunning costumes and lots of bodies on stage performing rich, energetic, emotional and interesting dance.  He’s been Artistic Director for 25 years, but Stephen Page has still got it.  This piece showcased what Bangarra is all about.  Sharing rich and diverse Aboriginal culture with people like me.

NYAPANYAPA

Bangarra dancers perform Stephen Page’s Nyapanyapa. Image from Bangarra Facebook page.

Again, Jacob Nash’s set was fantastic.  What better way to pay homage to an artist, than to have massive artworks on display.  Simple in their design, each piece was striking in its impact.  The traditional artworks were modernised too, with a few of them doubling up as canvases for other images to be projected on to.

The piece was emotional, but uplifting.  It was the perfect end to a night dedicated to one of the key people in the creation and significance of Bangarra.  David Page.

The audience applauded and stood with appreciation as the team involved in creating this cultural event took to the stage, including artist Nyapanyapa Yunupingu.

OUR land people stories tours nationally.

It opens in Perth on July 20, Canberra on July 28, Brisbane on August 12 and Melbourne on September 1.

Macq (2013)
Choreography: Jasmin Sheppard
Music: David Page
Set Design: Jacob Nash
Costume Design: Jennifer Irwin
Lighting Design: Matt Cox
Cultural Consultant: Frances Bodkin

Miyagan (2016)
Choreography: Beau Dean Riley Smith and Daniel Riley
Music: Paul Mac
Set Design: Jacob Nash
Costume Design: Jennifer Irwin
Lighting Design: Matt Cox
Cultural Consultant: Diane McNaboe, Lynette Riley

Nyapanyapa (2016)
Choreography: Stephen Page
Music: Steve Francis
Set Design: Jacob Nash
Costume Design: Jennifer Irwin
Lighting Design: Matt Cox

More information about this performance and the company at Bangarra’s website.

*Images from Banagrra Dance Theatre Facebook page

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Author: rachelpupazzoni

I'm a journalist living in Sydney.

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