Posts Tagged ‘bangarra dance theatre





Bangarra Dance Theatre

QPAC Playhouse

August 7 – 15 2015


Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway


I.B.I.S lore - Bangarra men ensemble - Photo by Edward Mulvihill



‘… it is our wish to leave you with a message of hope and joy.’

Deborah Brown and Waangenga Blanco, I.B.I.S.



‘We are not one thing, we are many. That’s our survival, our adaptation. We’re not afraid to evolve.’

Frances Rings, Sheoak



I.B.I.S. and Sheoak, the two works on Bangarra’s double bill lore, are very different. I.B.I.S., by dancers/choreographers Deborah Brown and Waangenga Blanco, is a lively, joyous celebration of Torres Strait Island culture; Sheoak, by Resident Choreographer Frances Rings, is an intense work about an endangered culture renewing its spirit and forging a new way ahead.


I.B.I.S. is named after the Islanders Board of Industry and Service, a small authority that runs local stores on islands in the Torres Strait. Set in a fictional store, I.B.I.S. is a tribute to the organisation’s success, and the sense of community on which this is based.


I.B.I.S lore - Deborah Brown & Waangenga Blanco - Photo by Jeff Tan


Brown and Blanco say in the program notes that they see the store’s patrons as modern hunters and gatherers. The action starts in the store as the day begins, shifts to scenes about turtle hunting and turtle eggs, and a dreamlike sequence where crayfish in the freezer come to life, and finishes as people gather in the shop and socialise before leaving at the end of the day.


Elma Kris is the store manager and a central figure in the community, at first seen sweeping the floor around the shelves of brightly coloured boxes and packets. Waangenga Blanco plays the guitar, and Kris sings You Are My Sunshine in Ka La Lagau Ya language.


In the shop scenes, all the dancers sing and create percussion accompaniment, using their bodies and items such as wire shopping baskets, sardine tins, and boxes. Their movement is springy, stepping with bent knees. The female dancers’ tropical-print cotton frocks add to the carefree ‘party’ atmosphere.


The joy is infectious, and I’m sure everyone in the audience was discreetly tapping or jigging along in their seat – it was too hard to resist. The concluding numbers in particular, when the dancers were singing, and the men danced for the women and the women for the men, and then in unison, were pure joy. The dancers all gave strong performances, with the energy of Brown and Blanco standing out.


I wondered if Sheoak, coming after the energy and joy of I.B.I.S. would seem an anticlimax, but I was very wrong. Taking a completely different turn, Sheoak is an intense and gripping journey from loss to renewal, with many beautiful and inspiring moments along the way.


Rings says in her program notes that the sheoak tree is a powerful symbol in itself, providing tools, medicine, food and shelter, and in her work also symbolises Indigenous culture. The design and choreography strongly reinforce this symbolic connection between culture and the tree throughout, with the dancers carrying and manipulating trimmed leafless branches several metres long. Visually, the branches create interesting patterns, and extend the effect of the dancers’ movement.


Sheoak lore - Bangarra ensemble - Photo by Jeff Tan


The opening story is one of loss, with the death of an ancient scar tree. The dancers are piled on top of each other in a column, slowly twisting and grappling to rise up in a shaft of light.


They wear black and white short unitards with markings like twigs or veins, and jerkin-like tops, slashed in strips and resembling bark or bones, or the skin of a lizard. The accompanying soundtrack includes rending booms and creaking noises, and birds screeching in alarm.


The tree’s Keeper (Elma Kris) mourns. In this pivotal role, Kris is a powerful presence moving through the different stages of the story, sorrowing, guiding, enduring and inspiring.


Hearteningly soon after the death of the tree comes the poignantly beautiful ‘Seed’, a scene of hope and new growth, with the women creeping in on the ground, wrapped in white gauzy skirts that glimmer in the dimness. Their arms and legs occasionally extend and waver, like new shoots growing from the seed.


The journey to renewal is not straight ahead, though. It lurches into violence and breakdown in the section ‘Swinging Trees’, with the men, their bodies smeared with black and red, fighting against swinging suspended branches, and moving as if drunk or drugged.


‘Synthetic Seed’, a haunting duo between Kris and Yolanda Lowatta, a small intense figure, seems to set out again towards hope and renewal. They dance with the branch that Kris carries and then transfers to Lowatta, who is laid down on the earth in darkness at the end.


Sheoak lore - Leonard Mickelo - Photo by Edward Mulvihill


Out of the darkness, a new spirit is born. Two almost invisible dancers carry in a filmy bundle of white cloth, lit from within, cradling and then unfolding it, so that it seems to move by itself.


Finally, comes a celebration of the hard-won renewal and the continuing journey of the spirit in a scene for the whole company, their faces and bodies daubed with white, and wearing filmy pale long skirts, wrapped with strands of twisted fabric, string and feathers. At the end, a pyramid of branches has been rebuilt around the Keeper.


This resolution was very moving and, coming after such an intense journey, brought the first-night audience to its feet.


Bangarra is a Wiradjuri word meaning ‘to make fire’, and that’s what the company does in lore, inspiring and illuminating in a revelatory performance.


The elements of dance, music (Steve Francis), design (Jacob Nash), lighting (Karen Norris), and costumes (Jennifer Irwin) all combine to provide a powerful sensory experience for the audience. Bangarra’s lore finishes August 15.






QPAC & Bangarra Dance Theatre

QPAC Playhouse

August 15–23 2014


Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway




“The more time I spent contemplating Patyegarang, her courageousness and generosity of spirit, the deeper the importance I felt for Bangarra to awaken her spirit at this time and share this distinctive story from her perspective as an Eora woman.”

Stephen Page


In Bangarra Dance Theatre’s latest work, Patyegarang, choreographer and Artistic Director Stephen Page honours the Eora people of the Sydney area, and commemorates their experience of early contact with European settlers. Bangarra’s headquarters is on Eora land.


Patyegarang explores the story of the relationship between a young Eora woman of that name, and Lieutenant William Dawes, an English officer who arrived in Australia in 1788.




While the story and its context are presented in an impressionistic style in 14 short sections, the threads and themes are clear — a tribute to the significant contribution by dramaturg Alana Valentine, acknowledged by Stephen Page.


We see the special status that Patyegarang has among her people, the Eora women’s daily tasks of fishing and food gathering, the people’s use of boats, and the preparation for the hunt.


Patyegarang meets Dawes, who is trying to understand his unfamiliar surroundings, and she explains and names different elements, including constellations in the night sky. This is subtly done: Patyegarang focuses her attention and movement on the different elements and Dawes observes, follows and joins her.



In other sections of the work, we see the despairing Eora people in drab European clothing, suffering from illness, and men being shot by European soldiers. In one scene, Dawes wipes white ochre dust off a young man, and Patyegarang cleans black body paint off a young woman — both revealing the same colour skin underneath in a message affirming a common humanity.


The interactions between Patyegarang (Jasmin Sheppard) and Dawes (guest dancer Thomas Greenfield) are tender and full of goodwill, except at the end where they confront the fact that they belong to opposing worlds. They part with sadness, but the work finishes with an affirmation of the Eora people’s connection with the land, and a re-honouring of Patyegarang.


Sheppard is a gentle Patyegarang, while also conveying the character’s power and courage as a “chosen messenger” of her people. Her movements are rounded, and she skims her feet over the floor as she walks, as if feeling the earth. Greenfield, too, while a tall and commanding presence, has a gentle quality as well as great strength.


Waangenga Blanco and Elma Kris as Eora leaders or elders added another dimension of spiritual power and authority to the cast. Blanco, leading the men in dance, was very strong and intense, in perfect command of the grounded traditional movement, with body upright, knees bent and legs swivelling.


Kris’s trance-like entrance near the beginning and end of the work, bent over with a smoking wooden coolamon on her back, brings spiritual support and guidance. She leads the women as they gather around Patyegarang, carrying leafy branches and coolamons issuing resin-scented smoke.


Smoke, ochre, dust, and body paint are just some elements of the immersive sensory experience of this work. Composer David Page, and the designers — Jacob Nash (set), Jennifer Irwin (costumes) and Nick Schlieper (lighting) — have created another world.


The set recreates a towering sandstone cliff, with the lighting changing its colour and the depth of its shadows as it moves from the rose of dawn to daylight, and to night. In the depiction of their traditional lives, the women wear beautiful costumes: ruched and tucked earth-coloured dresses with string backs; skirts like woven string nets in various colours, inverted over the head to resemble woven fish traps; and pleated shimmery black and silver skirts and scarf tops in a night scene.



Singing, chanting, and instrumental music are mixed with bird calls and other sounds of the natural world in the musical soundtrack. We also hear Darug, the traditional language of the Eora people, as if spoken by Patyegarang. This is a poignant connection: as pointed out in the program notes, the rediscovered record of her language in Dawes’s notebooks was a gift of cultural knowledge back to her people 200 years later.


Stephen Page’s intention of honouring the Eora people is more than realised in this beautiful, absorbing and inspiring work that invokes the spirit of Patyegarang. What ultimately happened to her is unknown, but part of her story has been brought back to life.



“May the resonance of her potent story open our hearts and inspire our minds to imagine a collaborative, future Australia.”

Stephen Page





Up the Ladder

ACPA Up the Ladder

Up the Ladder


QPAC Cremorne

24th – 27th October 2012

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

“Here’s a story of aboriginal people aspiring…” Director, Wesley Enoch

The Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts (ACPA) was established in the 1990s and in 2011 enjoyed a sell-out season of Stolen, directed by Leah Purcell. This year’s final production, directed by QTC’s Artistic Director, Wesley Enoch, is Roger Bennett’s short play, Up the Ladder. The relatively straightforward story of an Aboriginal man rising through the ranks of the boxing world to become a champion becomes colourfully and noisily chaotic with the addition of fabulous original music (Musical Director Laine Loxlea-Dannan and Composers Laine Loxlea-Dannan, Bradley McCaw, Garret Lyon & Alinta McGrady) and dance (Choreographer Penny Mullen. Fight Director Niki Price).

Up the Ladder, as Director Wesley Enoch acknowledges, is a bit of a Trojan Horse. We follow a love story and an Aboriginal man’s quest to be the best he can be, in a bid to achieve notoriety and the means to support his family. We also see the sorry state of our society not so long ago, during a time that kept Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people separated and scared of what might happen should they ever enjoy the same level of “equality” (what a loaded word that is!). The political agenda is brought under the spotlight in the final moments, rather than getting in the way of a good story. Or is it the real story?

After an excited welcome in the foyer from two of the carnival crowd, and a dodgy offer of cheap watches from a dubious character who introduced himself as Shifty, we made our way to our seats in the Cremorne – it’s always freezing in the Cremorne – and looked about to see most of the company nearby, dressed in (1950s) vintage apparel and chatting and laughing amongst themselves. Many in the opening night audience were in no hurry to sit and we wondered aloud just who was in the show and who was there to see it! The question persisted as the show began with an upbeat song and an energetic jive on stage and off, while enthusiastic audience members added their own exuberant cheers and shouts to the carnival atmosphere. Two gentlemen appeared to be plants in the audience…at first. Their vocal contributions continued until well into the performance, when they left the theatre surprisingly quietly. This irregularity was the most hilarious opening 20 minutes of anything I’ve ever seen! Fortunately, we were able to follow the simple story during that raucous start and enjoyed the gentlemen’s antics as much as the early music and dance numbers; however, I noticed a few negative comments muttered by other audience members who were having a harder time than we were, focusing on the ACPA performers (as opposed to those uncles in the first two rows!). I guess all sorts are going to the theatre. And isn’t that fantastic?!

Wesley Enoch has turned this play into a Bran Nue Dae inspired extravaganza. The lighting (Jason Glenwright) is evocative of a fair ground and the design (Josh McIntosh), with its multiple levels, brightly coloured bunting and over-sized posters of Aboriginal boxers covering the upper walls, takes us to a time and place that our parents and grandparents speak of. A time and place we can hardly believe existed. And yet, in many ways and in many places, exists to this day. In ACPA’s final production for 2012 we see that the future of these Aboriginal artists at least, is bright. In particular, the band is on fire, the singers are in fine voice (I’d like to hear those boys sing some Scott Alan), and while the dance component is uniformly good, as it always is at ACPA, two of the dancers are outstanding. You’ll know in an instant which two they are. They have the same exquisite control over angular quirks of the sort of choreography that is so recognisable in Bangarra’s repertoire, and they have the intensity, natural confidence and focus to match that – and any other – professional company’s standards. It makes them very easy to watch. The dance ensemble together make a well-rehearsed and beautifully disturbing impact and in stark contrast, their prowess makes others appear much less comfortable on the same stage. It’s a mixed crowd, as you tend to expect at any student production; some are stronger performers than others. But the overall effect is Enoch’s specialty; it’s infectious fun and inspiring storytelling with a core message of tolerance, understanding, recognition and reconciliation.

It’s a short season and the three remaining shows this weekend are likely to sell out so for a bit of fun and a serious message behind all those bright lights and bunting, be quick and get along to see ACPA’s Up the Ladder.

Listen to Wesley Enoch and ACPA performers chat with Kelly Higgins-Devine.

Up the Ladder

Image by Sean Young



Up the Ladder

Image by Sean Young


ACPA Up the Ladder

Want to train at ACPA?







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.



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.



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.