Performing Arts

Terrain: the wonders of Lake Eyre

Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre and Bangarra Dance Theatre
Reviewed Wednesday 29th August 2012

Adelaide Festival Centre CEO, Douglas Gautier, remarked that he considered Bangarra to be a National Treasure, and he is not likely to find anybody arguing with that. This production, commissioned by artistic director Stephen Page, is yet another wonderful work from this groundbreaking company. The piece was choreographed by Frances Rings, who describes it as a “Hymn to Country”, and its nine sections take us away from the city to Lake Eyre, or Kati Thanda as it is called by the Arabana people, who were recently granted non-exclusive Native Title to Lake Eyre and its surrounds by the Federal Court, the result of a 14 year long court action.

The first section, Red Brick, is the calling to country, Lake Eyre, Australia’s enormous inland sea, beckoning to its people. Deborah Brown and four of the male dancers, Daniel Riley McKinley, Waangenga Blanco, Leonard Mickelo, and Jhuny-Boy Borja, engage in an intense series of intricate movements as a sort of prelude to the work. Bangarra’s trademark, the amazing blending of Western contemporary dance and traditional dance, without diluting the important cultural aspects, was well to the fore, as was their way of storytelling through dance.

The other eight sections reflect on the physical aspects of Lake Eyre, the way that it changes with time, and the people’s relationship to it. The next section, Shields, performed with great power by the male dancers, reflects on the Land Rights struggle of the Arabana people. Reborn, focusses on passing down the knowledge, the traditions and the custodianship of the land from generation to generation. Spinifex, danced by the women, makes reference to the trees around the edges of the lake, but also sees in them the spirits of women past, waiting in silence.

When Lake Eyre is in drought, it becomes a huge salt plain and Salt comments on this aspect of the land. Scar, looks at the influence of white settlement and its detrimental effects, after thousands of years in which the people and the land were one with each other. Landform, follows on from this by looking at how the earth has survived and overcome disastrous events, renewing itself and changing with the years, hinting at the problems that we are seeing as we push it ever further past sustainable limits. Reflect, goes beyond the physical to that point between land and sky, a spiritual land, but there also seems to be a request that all of us reflect on the land, and what we can do to improve its condition. Finally, Deluge, tells us on the coming of the rains, turning the salt plain into a saltwater lake, an inland sea, and bringing a flush of new life to the region.

Frances Rings has created a thoroughly absorbing piece that draws the audience in and leads them through the multifaceted narrative, linking poetic descriptions of the physical aspects of the area, its history and changing aspect, its meaning to its peoples and their relationships, and to deep spiritual matters.

Jacob Nash’s set is expansive and uses several evocative backdrops, coupled intimately with the lighting by Karen Norris, to create a wealth of moods and locales. Jennifer Irwin’s remarkable costumes are far more than just clothing, and constitute another level again in this powerful work. Then there is David Page’s atmospheric music, combining electronically generated sound with, at various times, strings, piano or guitar, introducing so many thematic elements and causing a number of people to ask, after the performance, whether a recording was available for purchase. That response alone says far more than I could in several paragraphs.

The dancers, Elma Kriss, Yolande Brown, Deborah Brown, Jhuny-Boy Borja, Waangenga Blanco, Tara Gower, Leonard Mickelo, Daniel Riley Mckinley, Jasmin Sheppard, Ella Havelka, Tara Robertson, Travis De Vries, Kaine Sultan-Babu, and Luke Currie-Richardson absorb themselves completely in their performance. They tell their story with great conviction and immense physical grace, with so much variation, from wide sweeping gestures to intimate movements, from great strength to captivating gentility.

This is another excellent work from Bangarra Dance Theatre that deserved a longer run in Adelaide to enable more people to see it. The audience, following the performance, could not stop talking about it, both in glowing terms of the performance, and in deep discussions of the content. Hopefully, there will be a return season soon.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

Festival Centre web site
Bangarra web site

Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre, 58 Grote Street, Adelaide
Season: To Saturday 1st September, 2012
Duration: 65 mins
Tickets: $22 to $60
Bookings: BASS 131246 or here

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