Bangarra Dance Theatre: “Lore” -
Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, 11 June -
“Lore”, a double bill of new works choreographed by former and current Bangarra Dance Theatre dancers, was enthusiastically received on opening night in Sydney. Because artistic director/choreographer Stephen Page’s work forms the backbone of Bangarra Dance Theatre’s repertoire it was especially interesting to see what choreographers Deborah Brown and Waangenga Blanco (I.B.I.S.), and Frances Rings (Sheoak) would bring to the table.
The first work, I.B.I.S. was quite different to anything I have seen Bangarra Dance Theatre perform, but very enjoyable. First-time choreographers and current company members, Deborah Brown and Waangenga Blanco have created a lively and vibrant work that is as entertaining as it is intriguing. Although I.B.I.S. stands for Island Board of Industry and Services, a real life organisation that runs local stores in the Torres Strait Islands, this work is set in a fictional store, allowing elements of fantasy to be woven in.
The scene is set when the curtain opens on a stage that is bare except for a few hanging shelves stocked with grocery items. Bangarra veteran Elma Kris sweeps the floor as if preparing the shop for morning customers while singing a familiar song, “You Are My Sunshine” in an Aboriginal dialect. Soon enough a few more dancers arrive with deliveries on goods trolleys, others waving and smiling to each other until the stage is full and they start to dance together as a group. In the initial ensemble work the dancers stamp out the rhythm with their feet, interacting with each other and projecting their joy into the auditorium. This was dance as community and ritual, not simply a performance.
In subsequent sections contemporary and Indigenous movement is blended together in a more familiar way. Each section was clearly listed on the cast list, ranging from scenes alluding to hunting/gathering, to the embodiment of different animals and the human experience of tropical heat. One to which every Australian can probably relate is “Cool Down” whereby four female dancers move languorously in front of what looks to be freezer doors, quite literally cooling down on a hot, sticky day. Each section blends smoothly into the beginning of the next one and before long the ending is reached, rounded off nicely with another series of ensemble dances. This is a really well structured and inventive work. All the elements fit together nicely, sets by Jacob Nash, costumes by Jennifer Irwin and music by Steve Francis.
Sheoak, choreographed by Frances Rings, was also a strong work but suffered, perhaps from its placement as the second work in the program. Frances Rings is a more experienced choreographer and there is much to like about Sheoak but it is not as easy as I.B.I.S to take in and make sense of. Design elements are very strong and I loved the versatile use of long tree branches. More than props these are integral elements of the set design, whether held by the dancers, suspended from above, bowing outwards like gigantic ribs or placed together, precariously balanced on top of each other.
In a duet called “Sheoak Spirit”, danced by Nicola Sabatino and Tara Robertson, the use of fabric that appears to glow accentuated the otherworldly grace of their fluid movements most effectively. Elma Kris and Yolanda Lowatta’s performance in the “Synthetic Seed” duet was intensely dramatic and powerful to watch.
In fact Elma Kris and Yolanda Lowatta were outstanding in both works but while Elma Kris is one of Bangarra’s most experienced and respected dancers, Yolanda Lowatta has only recently joined as an apprentice this year. Bangarra Dance Theatre celebrated its 25th anniversary just last year and this program shows the future looking bright in terms of choreography, performance and design.
- GERALDINE HIGGINSON