OUR land people stories - Review

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Posted 2016-07-22 by Rosemary Arguefollow

Fri 22 Jul 2016 - Sat 23 Jul 2016

OUR land people stories is the latest offering from Bangarra Dance Theatre, one of Australia's leading performing arts companies and is on at the State Theatre of Western Australia until 23 July.

Four choreographers have created three very different pieces but each conveys a message of hope and resilience though a fusion of Indigenous culture and contemporary movement.

The first piece, Macq, by choreographer and dancer Jasmine Sheppard, is an exposé of Governor Lachlan Macquarie, 'the father of New South Wales' who has 'a reputation as a generous and fair Governor' and seemingly treated the First Nations people well; providing farmland for the 'native' men, education for the children and annual picnics, and yet he was responsible for the massacre of more than a dozen D'harawal men, women and children near Appin, south-west of Sydney in 1816.

Macq begins with 'Mourning', the first of seven scenes, and is a moving and sorrowful duet danced by Nicola Sabatino and Leonard Mickelo as a corpse.

'Picnic' is a sharp contrast where caricatures of 'natives' revel with Daniel Riley, as Governor Macquarie, at the annual Durbur picnic. They dance manically around an enormous table with a towering cake and piles of crockery. Riley, with his brilliant technique and strength, is in his element.

In 'Territory' Riley dances a strong duet with Beau Dean Riley Smith, a D'harawal warrior, during which the simple set (Jacob Nash) of two chairs and the same oversized table are used to great effect in fighting out their territory.

The massacre is portrayed by faceless spider-like red-coats massing and shepherding the D'harawal before them.

'Bodies in the Trees' is a soulful reflection on the warriors who were hung from trees after the massacre. Sabatino searches amongst the male corpses that pile up on stage.

In 'Diary' Riley frantically scribbles down his intentions as the awful contents of his diary become the soundscape. In an intensely uncomfortable moment one of the male dancers carries another, who has a cloth bag over his head, onto the stage. Hysterically Riley pulls the bag open and thrusts his head inside to see the corpse's face. This refers to the murdered warriors having their heads cut off and taken to Sydney for the collection of a bounty.

The last section, 'Hope', is beautifully simple with Sabatino cleansing the stage with incense.

The accompanying soundscape including a mourning song sung by D'harawal women, environmental sounds and readings of Macquarie's writings was created by David Page in whose memory this season is dedicated.

The costuming by Jennifer Irwin is simple; the male dancers wear short black pants, the women skin-toned lycra bras and dip-dyed floor-length skirts, Sabatino is dressed in a simple light-coloured tunic and Macquarie in long black pants and a navy gold-braided jacket.

The story for Miyagan (our family) was brewing inside Beau Dean Riley Smith even before he joined Bangarra Dance Theatre but it was only brought into being this year in conjunction with his cousin and co-choreographer, Daniel Riley.

The work developed out of an exploration of their Wiradjuri family connection which can be traced back to their great-great-grandfather, Jack Riley, who lived on Talbragar Reserve in Dubbo in the early 1900s. With the help of elders Aunty Di and Aunty Lyn, Smith and Riley came to understand of kinship and the matrilineal totemic system of the Wiradjuri nation of Western New South Wales.

As I watched this dynamic piece I had a strong sense that there were stories underlying it, but in its abstraction they eluded me, so I just enjoyed this lyrical and joyful piece for what I saw before me.

The work comprised a number of small and large ensembles with dynamic, fast-paced movement, which were purely contemporary and lyrical at times and at others imbued with its Aboriginal origins.

Layered upon this were Jacob Nash's dramatic sets composed of four enormous arrays of feathered branches which were lowered into place one by one at the beginning of each section, building up into a striking whole.

The soundscape was developed by composer Paul Mac from items representative of country that Smith and Riley brought with them, including clap sticks, fighting sticks, grass and a recording of cockatoos, all of which are woven into the resultant musical work. Jennifer Irwin's attractive abstractions of historical costumes and Matt Cox's atmospheric lighting round off this beautiful piece.

After the interval we were treated to Stephen Page's Nyapanyapa, the story of acclaimed visual artist Nyapanyapa Yunupingu from North East Arnhem Land.

Composer Steve Francis collaborated with Page to create a vivid soundscape divided into five sections that are musically like the movements of a single work, each with different costumes and a distinct sense of place and atmosphere. The sets (Jacob Nash) include large images, including some of the artist's paintings, projected onto the backdrop.

The work begins with 'Buffalo', a narrative section based on Nyapanyapa's famous painting of when she was badly gored by a buffalo. The artist is compellingly danced by Elma Kris. 'Bush apple' is a joyous abstract piece with quirky costumes by Jennifer Irwin. 'Nibblets' is a caricature of a country town with its riotous music that Nyapanyapa explores but eventually rejects, continuing on her journey alone. In 'Lost Wendys' enormous black, cut-out dolls bring to life another of Nyapanyapa's paintings. The work ends with powerful ensemble movement entitled 'In her mind'. Here fire sticks add to the atmosphere and Jennifer Irwin's use of Aboriginal designs on fabric provide an additional dimension to the work. Matt Cox's unobtrusive lighting contributes to the work's magic.

Each of the works in OUR land people stories pushes the boundaries of art and dance but at the core of all them are this nation's indigenous stories.

Bookings through Ticketek .

Image of Bangarra Ensemble by Jhuny Boy-Borja used with permission.

!date 22/07/2016 -- 23/07/2016
219768 - 2023-06-16 07:54:47


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