Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Bangarra Dance Theatre’s newest production Yuldea shows that the company is continuing to thrive under the directorship of Frances Rings. Being so heavily shaped by the direction, vision and choreographic style of former Artistic Director Stephen Page there was always a slight question about what Bangarra would look like after he moved on. But with Yuldea, Artistic Director Frances Rings’s newest choreographed work, there is no doubt Bangarra Dance Theatre is on the right track – continuing to produce works that inform and enchant their audiences.
Yuldea tells the story of the Anangu of the Great Victorian Desert, and the Nunga from the far west region of South Australia. Frances Rings is from the Wirangu and Mirning tribes of this region so in telling the story of her own mob she is also bringing something of her own identity to audiences based on the east coast of Australia. The narrative focuses largely on the environmental damage wrought first by the building of the Trans-Australian Railway in the early 1900s, and secondly by the atomic testing at Maralinga, just north of Yuldea. In fact, the work takes its name from a former clay pan waterhole commonly known as Ooldea which was permanently drained in the years following the introduction of the rail line.
Yuldea runs for 60 minutes without an interval. It is a fast-paced work that transitions quickly between sections, and I was glad to have read the synopsis in the program before the show began, because otherwise I think I may have had difficulty following the narrative. Many of the dancers are relatively young, with at least half having joined Bangarra in the last one-three years. Rings’s choreography felt fresh and modern, tending more often towards speed and athleticism, which the dancers’ seemed to relish. In turn this fitted well with the electronic aesthetic of the accompanying music (composed by Leon Rodgers and Electric Fields). The textural variety and detail of Jennifer Irwin’s intricate costumes were spectacularly revealed by Karen Norris’s lighting design – how these seemingly fragile works of wearable art stand up to the rigours of performance night after night remains a mystery.
Kiarn Doyle danced with wonderful commitment and attack, drawing your eye towards him in a number of different sections. Daniel Mateo and Kassidy Waters danced a quirky yet gentle duet based on the Red Mallee Tree. Lilian Banks displayed a noble, somewhat imperious bearing in her role as the Kapi (Water) Spirit and Rikki Mason captured the trauma and devastation of the testing at Maralinga in a section titled "Black Mist".
Elizabeth Gadsby’s minimalist set design brought the dancers downstage, framing their semi-circular performance space with a textured fringe of fabric strips that reached the floor. This functioned as a sort of improvised curtain from which the dancers made their entrances and exits, while the shiny floor surface had the shimmery, reflective qualities of water. I liked Gadsby’s designs, however there seemed to be a substantial difference between the designs on-stage and the aesthetic of the marketing images used to promote and advertise Yuldea. Presumably the marketing images are created well before the production designs can be completed but when the difference is so substantial it can create a gap between audience expectation and reality.
Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Yuldea is playing in Sydney until mid-July and touring to Canberra, Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Bendigo in coming months. Catch a performance if you can.
– GERALDINE HIGGINSON
Touring dates here.