Bangarra Dance Theatre
Choreographers: Stephen Page, Frances Rings
Composer: Steve Francis
Canberra Theatre, Canberra Theatre Centre to 17 July
Reviewed by Len Power 15 July 2021
With ‘Sandsong’, Bangarra Dance Company takes us again into the world of stories emanating from our vast country and its First Nation people. Tradition, memory, history and songs handed down through generations come together to produce a dance work of great beauty and purpose.
Subtitled ‘Stories From The Sandy Desert’, ‘Sandsong’ tells the stories of the desert homelands of the Wangkatjungka and Walmajarri peoples of the Kimberley and Great Sandy Desert regions.
The central core of ‘Sandsong’ is a journey into ancient story systems framed against the backdrop of ever-changing government policy and of the survival of people determined to hold strong to their Culture.
The dance consists of four acts. Acts one, two and four depict the seasons – the cold dry, the hot dry and the wet season. The third act depicts the impact of the White Man.
Traditional dances and stories feature in the Cold Dry Season (Makurra) – kinship and place, ceremony, food and totems. In the Hot Dry Season (Parranga), the women hunt in spite of drought and the scarcity of food and water. The impact of the White Man (Kartiya) shows the injustices of servitude, trauma and station labour and the people leaving the land. The Wet Season (Vitilal) looks to contemporary times, healing, empowerment and reaffirming ties to Country. As the people gather for the Ceremony, the cycle of seasons and life continues.
Choreographers Stephen Page, Frances Rings and the Bangarra Dancers have created a haunting work filled with meaning. Quiet sections are almost dream-like with combinations of dancers creating moments of great beauty. The aerial sequence is especially arresting. Contrasting dramatic sections highlight the precision and skill of these expert dancers.
The set design by Jacob Nash is dramatic and colourful and the costume designs by Jennifer Irwin are richly derived from nature. Music by Steve Francis provides a fascinating soundscape that continually heightens the drama onstage and Nick Schlieper’s lighting design gives a striking focus that often elevates the dance to another level.
Once again, Bangarra have given us a work that instructs while it entertains. This first new full-length work in three years is unique and memorable.
Photos by Daniel Boud
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This review is also published in Len Power’s blog ‘Just Power Writing’ at https://justpowerwriting.blogspot.com/.