Fresh from its triumph at the 2018 Helpmann Awards, practically scooping the pool, winning six Helpmanns for Bennelong and a Helpmann for Our Land People Stories, Bangarra Dance Theatre again mesmerizes with a brand new work, Dark Emu.
Taking Bruce Pascoe’s award-winning book Dark Emu, Black Seeds as their inspiration, choreographers Stephen Page, Daniel Riley and Yolande Brown have fashioned a seamless, endlessly inventive dance work in which the sophisticated farming, fishing and land management practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are depicted in a series of abstract, visually beautiful and passionately danced sequences.
Jacob Nash’s moody setting incorporates huge sculptural interpretations of native seeds and shells, which belch smoke or shower sand on the dancers. Large rocks are carried on and off, structures are built and dismantled in a continuing flow of arresting images, for which Stan James-Holland’s superb lighting, and Steve Francis’s dramatic soundscape, are integral. Jennifer Irwin’s extraordinary muted costumes are remarkable for their incredible use of texture, and the beautiful way they move.
Bangarra Dance Theatre has always been an ensemble company with a fiercely distinctive style. The standard of dancing among the 18 members of the current company has never been higher. The confidence and refinement with which the dancers perform the increasingly sophisticated choreographic demands is particularly noticeable in the high polish achieved by the women in the unison sections of the lovely Bowls of Mourning sequence.
Now approaching its 30th year, Bangarra Dance Theatre is recognized internationally for its particular uniqueness among dance companies. Artistic Director, Stephen Page, has patiently nurtured dancers, Elma Kris, Yolanda Lowatta, Daniel Riley, Beau Dean Riley Smith and Waangenga Blanco into star dancers each possessing a unique presence which imbues any sequence in which they appear with authenticity.
Similarly his mentorship of young choreographers, including Daniel Riley and Yolande Brown, and such distinctive creatives as Jacob Nash, Steve Francis and Stan James-Holland, not only insures that Bangarra Dance Theatre will maintain its place at the forefront of Indigenous dance companies, but could also find itself scooping the Helpmann pool again with this latest creation, Dark Emu.
Choreography: Stephen Page, Daniel Riley and Yolande Brown Costume Design: Jennifer Irwin Set Design: Jacob Nash Composition: Steve Francis Lighting Design: Stan James-Holland Dramaturgy: Alana Valentine
Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Thursday 26 July 2018
Season: 26 – 28 July 2018
Dark Emu will also be presented at the Heath Ledger Theatre – State Theatre Centre of WA (2 – 5 August); Playhouse – QPAC, Brisbane (24 August – 1 September); and the Playhouse – Arts Centre Melbourne (6 – 15 September).
Image: Bangarra Dance Theatre presents Dark Emu – photo by Daniel Boud
Review: Bill Stephens OAM