04
Oct
12

Terrain

Terrain

Terrain

Bangarra Dance Theatre

QPAC Playhouse

3rd – 7th October 2012

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

The Aboriginal inhabitants of this continent practised sustainable natural resource management for thousands of generations. Their culture, beliefs and natural resource management practices were inextricably interwoven to ensure sustainability and to provide a lasting legacy.

Contemporary Australians are only beginning to understand this strange, un-European land their forebears came to. The management practices brought to this antipodean land have in many cases proven less than ideal and in some cases, simply disastrous.

Source: lakeeyrebasin.org.au

 

This is not a show that everyone will immediately understand in a cerebral manner.

The understanding goes deeper. It must.

 

At each Bangarra opening night I sense a fierce pride permeating the foyer. I love it. Nowhere else in Brisbane is there such determined, joyful purpose in going to the theatre.

Internationally acclaimed Bangarra Dance Theatre continues to forge ahead in contemporary dance, effortlessly raising the bar and begging the question, “What next?” This is the Bangarra I love. Some of our country’s best dancers doing what they do best; superb, sensorial work of a consistently high standard and extraordinarily Australian in all its elements.

Terrain, which is Choreographer Francis Rings’ first full-length piece, commissioned by Bangarra Artistic Director, Stephen Page, lets us watch in wonder, the changing landscapes of one of the world’s largest internally draining systems, Kati Thanda (Lake Eyre Basin). Covering an area of 1.2 million square kilometres – that’s almost one sixth of the continent – Kati Thanda is the fifth largest terminal lake in the world. Recently, the Arabunna people were granted native title rights and sole custody of the lake and its surrounding lands but their origins have made them the custodians of the area for centuries. Terrain is a 65-minute story of individual and collective strength; it’s about identity, sustainability, power, pride, life, death and rebirth. Phew!

In nine fragments, we see moments of change and years of survival. Shields reminds us that the struggle for land rights and recognition ain’t over yet. Salt and Scar juxtapose sharp, jarring movement against deliciously fluid (oily evil) man-made moves. The seduction of commerce. The promise of wealth from those who would exploit our natural resources. The unwillingness of the people to let go of place. Or pride. Or identity. Or story.

Jacob Nash draws on the “subconscious of the country”; life below the surface of the lake, its lines, colours, textures and patterns. His multiple painted backdrops, revealed one after another in perfectly construed succession within an immense, stark space remind me of the basic lessons in line and pattern brought to vibrant life in primary school classrooms, inspired by Wendy Allen’s classic Running On Rainbows, a teacher’s gift from the visual art gods. There is a sense of Peter Elfe’s imagery in these backdrops too (though, in the Teachers Resources, the work of Murray Frederiks is referenced for good reason); the ever-changing, evolving environment at odds with our modern, urban, seemingly unstoppable need to acquire and develop. The sheer size and dramatic beauty of these pieces mean that Nash could quite reasonably put a price on each and check in with collectors of Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s work. The same can be said of Jennifer Irwin’s textural, functional, wearable art. Her structural, earthen cum outer space mineral and creature costumes are runway worthy and perfectly imagined to suit the individual and collaborative shapes of this piece; living, breathing, intertwined organisms created by the company of dancers moving across the stage as one in unmistakable Bangarra style. After twenty years designing for Bangarra, Irwin’s specialty is clearly her ability to create second skins. Karen Norris, in a bid to create lighting that sculpts “the bodies like the land, with subtle light in little to no colours” has achieved a special outback ambience that is continuously quietly changing, “enhancing, sculpting and helping the audience to follow the story.”

David Page has composed a score to evoke the “heritage, mystery, threat and natural beauty” of the lake. It’s simultaneously classical and contemporary and a little bit magical, as if there were water sprites and desert fairies peeking over Page’s shoulder at the time in a bid to keep him honest. The use of spoken voice in Shields perfectly unsettles us.

As we live through the transition of the lake, from scorching, wind-swept desert to a vast inland sea thriving with life and renewed, inspired strength, we see the connection the Arabunna people have with their land. We see the connection the Aboriginal people have with this great southern land. Some of us might even feel that strongly, a similar sense of place and belonging. For those who do not, the collective skill and the organic, sensual beauty of these dancers, caught within the work of art that is Bangarra’s newest production, might stir something in you yet. Be quick, Terrain closes on Sunday.

Deluge TERRAIN

UPDATE

From Bangarra to Ballet – we farewell Ella Havelka with her last performance on

Sunday October 7, QPAC Brisbane.

Having performed in 2012 at Lincoln Centre, New York, in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, across 6 major Australian cities, and in remote towns such as Maree, South Australia, leading young Indigenous dancer Ella Havelka will perform for the final time with Bangarra in the closing night of the Brisbane season of TERRAIN following her acceptance of an invitation from The Australian Ballet to join the company.

The invitation is a homecoming of sorts for Ella, who trained with the Australian Ballet School, graduating in 2007 after touring with the dancers company. Now after 4 years with Bangarra Ella continues her journey of fulfilling her long held dream of being a ballerina.

Ella commences her contract with The Australian Ballet immediately becoming the first ever Aboriginal dancer in the company’s history. Bangarra’s long association with The Australian Ballet began in 1999 with Stephen Pages’ acclaimed Rites. During 2012, as part of the Australian Ballet’s 50th Anniversary celebrations Stephen Page created Waramuk-in the dark night bringing both companies’ dancers together to perform at Lincoln Centre, New York.

Ella, a descendant of the Wiradjuri people, has had a remarkable journey with Bangarra growing as an artist, connecting to her culture, and performing across Australia and the world. Receiving a Dance scholarship

as a part of the Rio Tinto Aboriginal Fund Professional and Educational Development Program, Ella made her first appearance in Fire – A Retrospective in 2009 and was nominated as ‘Dancer to Watch’ in the Dance

Australia Critics Survey 2 years running. Since then she has performed in Stephen Page’s Mathinna nationally and regionally, in Bangarra’s of earth & sky, toured Europe with Spirit, performed nationally in the acclaimed

Belong and through teaching Bangarra’s workshops across regional and remote locations has helped many Aboriginal children to connect with their culture.

Bangarra’s Artistic Director Stephen Page said “Ella is one of this country’s greatest young talents and as she continues her journey as an Aboriginal woman and an Australian dance artist we wish her every success.

With her exceptional technique, strength and agility, her natural warmth and ability to connect with the audience we know she will thrive with the Australian Ballet when she trades knee-pads for pointe shoes!”

Ella’s final performance with Bangarra will be in TERRAIN this Sunday 7 October at QPAC in Brisbane. Described as a hymn to country, TERRAIN transports us to Lake Eyre the place of Australia’s inland sea: one of the few untouched natural waterways in the world. Bangarra explores the relationship of Indigenous people to country and how landscape becomes a second skin.

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