Thursday, September 13, 2012
Terrain - Bangarra Dance Theatre
Review by Frank McKone
David Page and Frances Rings, speaking at the pre-show forum, said that dance is its own language, so it is difficult to explain in words. The best I can do is to describe Terrain as a symphonic poem in nine movements, however trite, old-fashioned and European that sounds.
The nearest Frances herself could give us was to say it is an abstract work, not a narrative, and I suppose this refers to visual art rather than music.
Like a symphony, there are leitmotifs in action creating such a complexity of movement around Rings’ original style that I found myself thinking of Brahms for depth of feeling. As a poem, it has the terse, and I may say, dry quality of T.S.Eliot’s Four Quartets, though in nine parts rather than just four.
As an art work it is indeed an abstraction in which, as in many Aboriginal paintings, an almost hidden angle of a woman’s bent arm, a man’s knees briefly widened apart remind us of traditional dance, or a momentary flow of loose feathery costume denotes a mother emu, or hands brought up briefly show us a powerful male kangaroo. This is not a dripping Jackson Pollack, but referential and entirely reverential expression of feelings constructed with the flair, speed of action and linear detail of a Blue Poles.
Then realise that the dance work and the music are integrated in close creative cooperation between Rings and Page, and wonderfully enveloped in the set by Jacob Nash and costumes by Jennifer Irwin, and you understand you are experiencing a major work.
Terrain draws us away from the world of city cacophony, beyond the boundaries of settlement, into the centre of our land itself, where tiny groups of people have learned to understand the harshness and the beauty of their country, from the whiteness of ever-extending salt in the dry times to the rippling colours of water in times of flood. For any Australian, Terrain is essential viewing.