17
Mar
12

Bloodland or Dear Australian Theatre Industry, Be Careful What You Wish For

Bloodland 

Bangarra Dance Theatre with Sydney Theatre Company  & Adelaide Festival Production

QPAC Playhouse 

14th – 18th March  

“BEING AN ABORIGINAL PERSON IN THIS COUNTRY IS HARD.”

Wayne Blair, Writer.

  

When Cate and Andrew ask for a product, you give it. They asked for a show about indigenous issues and here it is. Are you ready for that? I wasn’t. I thought I was seeing a dance production, which may or may not have alluded to land rights, tribal war and racism in this country. But this is the new Bangarra Theatre. This is Bangarra with less of the dance and more of the issues. This is, without doubt, what the future of indigenous theatre looks like. It’s a rich mix of (some) dance, song and theatre, which lets us in, though some of us are welcomed just as far as the door, on the traditional lore and the urban reality of our indigenous people. In case we’re still in denial about any of those issues.

Tomorrow's Dreaming by Jandamarra Cadd

“THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL”

Larissa Behrendt, Professor of Law.

Larissa Behrendt, Chair of Bangarra, explains, “The medium of theatre adds a different dimension to Stephen’s storytelling craft with extra layering of language, ceremony and silence.” The Stephen she refers to is, of course, Bangarra Artistic Director and choreographer, Stephen Page, who, along with writer, Wayne Blair, hails from Brisbane. Their lively characters, who live “between two worlds, with one foot in each”, and have come into existence through the collaboration of Page, Blair and cultural mentors, Kathy Balnganyngu and Djakapurra Munyarryun, share the stories of North-East Arnhem Land’s original inhabitants, the Yolgnu. They are familiar stories and very funny scenarios to many in the opening night audience.


The language is the thing. Wesley Enoch explains that the Yolgnu language has “very limited use of adjectives…very complex metaphors…it’s like heightened poetry.” With a smattering of Pidgin English thrown in for good measure and more (traditional) song than dance incorporated (more dance again next time, in Terrain), we can follow most of the story. But I feel…marginalised. Yep. I feel like I’m missing out, like I don’t get the punch line; I feel like I’ve walked into somebody else’s party and I don’t know where the kitchen is. And what the hell is that everybody’s drinking?! You know what? I bet I feel the same way a Yolgnu woman might feel in the audience of any one of the RSC’s productions, which have recently come under fire again for being old-fashioned and elitist, among other things (and juxtaposed, quite rightly, against La Boite’s AYLI, by commentator, Stephen Collins, who has probably seen more than the West End Whingers have, only he doesn’t have a blog)! Watching Bloodland, I feel, quite probably, the way an Eora descendent might feel during a performance of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll at Belvoir St or perhaps how a local Gubbi Gubbi woman might feel when she comes to see David Williamson’s Travelling North at Noosa Arts in April. Yikes. The tide has turned.

Aboriginal clans divided by the outside interests of the mining corporations, who’ll pay whoever can prove to a Tribunal, their undisputed ownership of the land. Beneath that layer is another, of the Southern Star-crossed lovers and another, of the comedy of modern technology and deeper down again, the inconceivable tragedy, which we might have felt angrier or sorrier about had we seen more of the love story. Reality bites down hard in our indigenous communities, refuses to loosen its grip and shakes its bone angrily, like a mongrel dog (one of the highlights of the show is David Page as the mongrel)! But loss is loss. And though some of us may wail louder and longer than others, we each feel to some degree, the heavy, heavy impact of trans-generational hate and its myriad consequences.

Because the characters of Bloodland are drawn so clearly, because the key moments are not left to the language alone, because the soundscape is so haunting – stillness in the silence and otherwise, birdsong and an undercurrent of incessantly buzzing flies and heat rising from the earth (think of the languidness of Picnic at Hanging Rock before the ascent and then go listen to Camille to hear the one note sustained for the length of an album) – and because we might as well be experiencing the whole thing in GOMA (how about a MONA season too while we’re finding new audiences?) we get that these are essentially not Anglo, not Aboriginal, but human stories, crossing race, culture, custom, creed. I don’t think that’s what we are meant to get  (I think the stories are seen as belonging to the Yolgnu and it feels almost blasphemous to claim them, or even to recognise them) but that’s what we get. And I wanted to get that more.

Bloodland is a landmark production. It blurs the lines, both in form and content, between what contemporary, indigenous and “traditional” or “conventional” storytelling within a theatrical context can be. It throws dancers, actors and storytellers together into the same big pot on the fire and stirs occasionally, letting the contents bubble away until thick, rich broth reaches the top of the pot and boils over, streaming down the sides and sizzling as it hits hot coals beneath.

By all means, continue to claim the stories! Your stories. We acknowledge, respect and value your stories, your connection to the land, your ceremonies and your culture that might seem strange sometimes, to some of us. We desperately want to know more, hear more, feel more (it’s too easy to be dispassionate about issues from which we feel disconnected).

Gilbert by Jandamarra Cadd

The personal is political, remember?

Why not make it more personal for more of us? My fear is that a devoted non-indigenous audience might slowly wean themselves off this exciting new theatrical form. Share the story with us or don’t. Let us in on the joke or don’t. Once you’ve decided which it is, we can go with you on your journey (or not), feel empathy for your characters and be moved and inspired to find out more about those issues you, rightly, feel so strongly about. Or not. And that’s the magic of theatre, past, present and future. I do like to see as many people as possible, being offered the opportunity to experience the magic of theatre.

Bloodland is a Jandamarra Cadd canvas: “the spirit of reconciliation” evident in its creative process but ultimately, the eyes, revealing eons of despair, give the impression that the lines in the sand, between clans and between colours, are still deeply, irrevocably marked.

If this is what the future of indigenous theatre looks like, we have a whole new world, complete with many of the same old issues turned directly on their heads, to sort through next. Well, BRING IT.

Working Progress by Jandamarra Cadd

The images and stories of 12canoes.com.au make the story a bit more personal. If you haven’t found them already, by clicking on the links within the text, take a look and listen now.

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