• A scene from 'Kulka'. Photo by Daniel Boud.
    A scene from 'Kulka'. Photo by Daniel Boud.
  • Emily Flannery, Jye Uren and Chantelle-Lee Lockhart in 'The Light Inside'. Photo by Daniel Boud.
    Emily Flannery, Jye Uren and Chantelle-Lee Lockhart in 'The Light Inside'. Photo by Daniel Boud.
  • Bangarra ensemble in 'The Light Inside'. Photo by Daniel Boud.
    Bangarra ensemble in 'The Light Inside'. Photo by Daniel Boud.


Horizon is a collaborative venture focusing on selected dance customs and activities in Australia and New Zealand. It is Bangarra Dance Theatre’s first mainstage, international collaborative initiative, a momentous and admirable undertaking. But the production was not without some issues.

Horizon was officially described as a double bill but there were three works on the program. Two were linked by the overarching title, The Light Inside, with one by former Bangarra senior artist Deborah Brown, the other by Māori choreographer and director of Auckland’s New Zealand Dance Company, Moss Patterson. Despite the linking by title, each displayed a quite different approach, especially in a choreographic sense. I’m not really sure why the two weren’t thought of as separate works. The coupling seemed to me to be just a convenient and non-dance way of making an association between two works on the program.

Horizon opened with a short work, Kulka, by Sani Townson, Youth Programs Coordinator with Bangarra. His focus was nighttime and the fact that his specific Torres Strait Islander culture has many traditional songs and dances about constellations, which are guides to the totems and clans in his society.

Kulka was danced to a percussive score by Amy Flannery. A strong, dominant role was taken by dancer Kassidy Waters, although the choreography was a little repetitive especially in the beginning when Waters was constantly held upside down and carried across the stage in this position. But Townson later developed some interesting groupings of dancers and introduced us to a feature of Horizon that was repeated throughout each of the works: the dancers were mirrored in a structure that acted, in the case of Kulka, as a kind of backcloth, or later in other works as reflections in a watery foreground.

Deborah Brown’s contribution to The Light Inside was subtitled Salt Water. Performed to a score by Steve Francis and Brendon Boney, Brown’s choreography was beautifully fluid, mesmerising even. While all the dancers gave outstanding performances, a highlight was Blue Star, a solo by Lillian Banks. This section told of a seasonal change when moisture in the air makes the stars twinkle and turn blue, creating a guide for the seafaring peoples of the Torres Strait Islands. Banks gave a particular clarity to every moment of the choreography.

Moss Patterson’s contribution, also performed to the score by Francis and Boney, had the subtitle Fresh Water, reflecting Patterson’s background growing up around Lake Taupo on the North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand.

His choreography had overtones of the Māori haka and I couldn’t stop my mind moving out of the theatre to football matches between Australia and New Zealand, which inevitably contain a haka at the start of the match. But the work ended in a quieter fashion with the full ensemble dancing to suggest peace and communication.

As always with Bangarra productions, there were elements beyond the choreography that were standouts. Particularly exceptional were the costumes designed by Clair Parker for Kulka and Jennifer Irwin for The Light Inside. It is unfortunate, however, that the lighting design (Karen Norris) was quite dark for much of the time. The beautiful decorative elements of the costumes were only really obvious via production images. Elizabeth Gadsby’s set design made quite clear the concept of the horizon on which the works centered.

The evening was quite different from what we have become used to watching from Bangarra. The usual narrative-style approach we so often associate with the company was missing, or rather the works were based on much more abstract ideas than has usually been the case. Hope and light across and within cultures, with water also a feature, were the themes I extracted from the production.


'Horizon' continues its season at the Sydney Opera House until July 13, then moves to Canberra/Ngunnawal Country from July 18-20, then Brisbane/Meanjin from August 7-17, then Melbourne/Wurundjeri Country from August 28-Sep 7.

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