Thumbnail Image: Deborah Brown—Miyagan, OUR land people stories, Bangarra Dance Company.
Photo by Vishal Pandey aka wanderlust73
It is opening night at the beautifully tiered Berliner Festespiele. A woman releases a wail that radiates out to us as the curtain rises. She searches for life in the body of a man lying across the ground, as she dances movement into his limp body. All senses are enlivened in us with this communication of raw emotion. Here begins the sharing of these stories that transcend contemporary national borders.
We are drawn into Jasmine Sheppard’s choreographic exploration of the 1816 Appin Masacre and what lies beyond the figure of the celebrated Governor Lachlan Macquarie. Here he is confronted with his own contradictions. He is wild, uncontrollable in his aggressive contortions, reacting both repulsively and in repulsion to the shrilling soundscape hosting words from his diairies. The sound builds in a dramatic crescendo. We are taken to a haunting tea party. Dancers in colonial dress move in parodies of pompous figures amidst large chandeliers and crockery. A chase ensues across and under the central prop, a table, between Macquarie and a Dharawal man. Loss of life powerfully depicted through men hanging from other men as they are held from their underarms. This is the sharing of a history that is not in history books. Histories from an indigenous perspective offered through performance. An avenue of exploration that was further expanded in the 2017 production of Bennelong. Macq is the first of three stories that we are privileged to receive in this triple bill that has travelled from an Australian capital city tour to one of the great European cities of the arts. The next story Miyagan comes to us from Wiradjuri country in north-western New South Wales. The ensemble of women leads the way. The layers of kinship relationships are given theatrical intrigue with Jacob Nash’s set. Giant emu feathers are lowered into view incrementally in sections as the story moves forward, bringing complexity and depth. This goes well beyond the exploration of the relationship between the two central dancers, Daniel Riley and Beau Dean Riley Smith in sharing stories of their people and place. It presents intricacies of interconnectedness as dancers embody the strength of these ties.
Nyapanyapa is the final story for which the curtain rises after interval. We are transported to a spectacular meeting of visual art and dance. The set that holds colours in motives, cross-hatch and dots creating alchemy upon interaction with a diversity of physical forms. Stories from the life of Nyapanyapa Yunupingu, Yolngu elder from the Yirritja moiety of North East Arnhem Land meet Stephen Page’s choreography. A celebration of the woman, of her work and life experiences. The opening scene tells of Nyapanyapa’s encounter with a water buffalo, poetically depicted. Scintillating formations emerge as bodies move in sync. Partners and groups creating wondrous shapes. Supporting each other, providing foundations. Gliding, sliding, beauty in composition, in a hybridity of distinctive shapes. Moving as waterfalls, bodies of contrasting viscosities merging. Forging beyond physical boundaries, defying the limits of skin. Elma Kris leads the way as women converge with cones of smoke. She echoes in our eyes as the dancers interact directly with silhouette shapes of the protagonist. The larger-than-life finale set is striking, holding Nyapanyapa gazing upon us as the female dancers move onto the stage. I wonder what she sees in us.
The curtain falls before a packed theatre. Applause with intent radiates through numerous rounds of applause. And finally, little by little, one person rises to their feet, and a wave of people erupts. The standing ovation from Berlin arrives. This performance offers so much more than stunning aesthetics in dance that push the bounds of physicality. It is a fusion of spirit and dance supported by stories that have been shared with the company by the people of the Countries from which they originate. This goes to the heart of the unique and arresting strength of Bangarra’s work. Dancers expressed a common feeling of excitement for taking each story back to Country and paying respect when I interacted with some of them. For saying thank you to all those who share their stories with the company. In 2018 they will be doing just that with this triple spectacular. Bangarra ultimately gives people of Australia and the world the chance to learn from stories and experience the strength of spiritual consciousness and connection in indigenous storytelling. The company forms a bridge carrying spirit from the traditional to the contemporary.
Bangarra Dance Company performed a 3-city international tour in Copenhagen, Bonn and Berlin, concluding at the Berliner Festespiele with OUR land people stories from 26-28 October 2017. OUR land people stories will travel to Newcastle, Dubbo, Toowoomba, Gold Coast, Rockhampton, Mackay and Alice Springs in February and March 2018.
Lika Posamari is an Australian of northern European ancestry leading a fairly nomadic life. Her creative credits include Westerly, The Red Corner, Kitaab and Clot. She is forthcoming in Rabbit and Art Explore.