Performing Arts

Of Earth and Sky

Of Earth and Sky BangarraPresented by Bangarra Dance Theatre
Reviewed Wednesday 8th September 2010

Venue: Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: 6:30pm Thurs 9th, 7:30pm Fri 10th, Sat 11th, 2pm Sat 11th September
Duration: 90min incl interval
Tickets: adult $50.95/conc $44.95/student $22.95/ groups 6+ $44.00
Bookings: BASS 131 241 or

The latest work from Bangarra Dance Theatre is a magnificent double bill, with Riley, choreographed by first-time choreographer Daniel Riley-McKinley, and Artefact, choreographed by the much-respected Frances Rings. The first was inspired by the wonderful ‘cloud series’ of photographs by the late indigenous artist Michael Riley; various objects set against a cloudy sky. The second takes its theme from objects of historical significance in the daily lives of Aboriginal people. Music for both works was composed by David Page with Jacob Nash designing sets, Gabriela Tylesova designing costumes and Damien Cooper designing the lighting, these common elements providing a subtle link between both pieces and allowing the audience to see how the same creative team take remarkably different approaches to their designs for the two pieces.

The ensemble was Sidney Saltner, Elma Kris, Patrick Thaiday, Yolande Brown, Jhuny-Boy Borja, Deborah Brown, Waangenga Blanco, Tara Gower, Leonard Mickelo Jasmine Shepherd, Daniel Riley-McKinley, Katrina Olsen, Perun Bonser, Ella Halvalker and Travis De Vries. Their work was often so inextricably linked and superbly interdependent that it would be impossible to single out any of the dancers for special mention, but all deserve to be recognised by name for their contribution.

Riley has a focus on ensemble work in descriptive depictions of the images that are displayed on a screen at the rear of the stage. Riley-McKinley, who is related to Michael Riley, although they never met, opens his performance with the dancers sliding and crawling across the stage like clouds drifting across the sky, yet maintaining, physically, a strong connection to the earth. In Locust they move as one, like a swarm of insects flying. In the first appearance of Bible the women enter in a line like novice nuns while, in its second appearance, the men are reminiscent of martial monks. There is a marked variation between Riley-McKinley’s two interpretations of the same image. Artistic Director, Stephen Page, has discovered a vibrant new choreographic talent in Riley-McKinley.

In Artefact, Rings takes a different approach, looking beyond the surface, exploring the inner significance of the objects. Opening with Museum, the subject is a possum skin coat, now an exhibit hanging in a glass case, once a part of daily apparel. Two dancers bring life to the coat, once wearing it, the other crawling out from beneath it, then re-entering. One gets the impressions of birth and death, an ongoing cycle over generations who wore the coat, as well as that of insect like movement, perhaps devouring, leading to the death of the coat itself. String Bag, Weaving, Coolamon and Grinding Stone gave us aspects of daily life and Bodies explored the early Western technique of Physical Anthropology, a system of looking only at physical attributes and attempting to draw spurious, downright incorrect and, usually, verify preconceived conclusions.

Together, the two works provide a unique insight into a way of life, a way of thinking, that we are in danger of losing. This is a valuable and provoking evening of dance that goes well beyond the aesthetic. Stephen Page and Bangarra Dance are to be heartily congratulated for this remarkable evening, a tribute to all concerned and a timely recognition of many centuries of Australian history.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor Glam Adelaide.

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