Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following article contains the name of someone who has passed. The family of Ningali Lawford-Wolf has given the media permission to use her name.
Sandsong by Bangarra Dance Theatre is a songline for Wangkatjungka woman Ningali Josie Lawford-Wolf (1967–2019) and a songline for the Kimberley and Great Sandy Desert regions.
The performance resonates though Country and memory. It makes connection with experiences we may never have even imagined. It shares stories that need to be told and it creates healing.
As the work opens with projected images of a familiar map with “terra nullis” written on it, photos of enslaved men in chains, and statistics about deaths in custody, it’s difficult to know if the people on the stage are sleeping happily as a community or piled as bodies.
But the backdrop (set: Jacob Nash, lights: Nick Schlieper) shimmers with gold and an orange that anyone who has been in or flown over the Kimberley recognises. This is Country that holds its people.
Community, place, story and safety are part of everything Bangarra do. This includes choreography (Stephen Page, Frances Rings and the dancers of the company) where dancers physically hold each other and group work where everyone is moving in the same way but never in unison; there is always individuality and personality in the group.
Sandsong also shares generational and ongoing trauma. As a viewer, it might help to read up beforehand or it’s powerful to just let yourself feel. Until Australia’s history of slavery is something we talk about and share and heal, we have to keep seeing and experiencing these stories.
Exquisite beauty, kinship and trauma are part of Ningali Josie Lawford-Wolf’s Country. As an artist, and close Bangarra collaborator, her story is felt as much as it is honoured throughout Sandsong.
Critics are often expected to write about artistic achievement and skill. Bangarra have extraordinary achievement and skill. But they are a company that begin with a commitment to Land, Community and People, and it this is what makes you leave a performance with hope, understanding and a determination to ensure that these stories keep being told.
SandSong: Stories from the Great Sandy Desert
Playhouse – Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Performance: Thursday 25 August 2022
Season continues to 3 September 2022
Ulumbarra Theatre, 10 – 20 Gaol Road, Bendigo
Performances: 9 – 10 September 2022
SandSong: Stories from the Great Sandy Desert will also be presented at selected venues in Western Australia and the Northern Territory throughout October and November. For more information and performance schedule, visit: www.bangarra.com.au for details.
Image: Bangarra Dance Theatre presents SandSong: Stories from the Great Sandy Desert – photo by Daniel Boud
Review: Anne-Marie Peard