Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Fire" - Bangarra Dance Company - Canberra Theatre -20th, 21st November 2009

Further to Malcolms' post...sitting in the Canberra Theatre watching this retrospective of 20 years creative output by the Bangarra Dance Theatre, it was impossible not to be thrilled and moved by the achievements of Stephen Page and his collaborators.

Not simply a "Best of" program, "Fire" is a seamless flow of visual and aural experiences performed by a highly trained group of dancers who enthusiastically embrace modern theatrical technology and dance techniques to share the powerful myths and mythology of their forefathers, while at the same time, not afraid to include less savoury aspects of contemporary aboriginality in searing excerpts from "Corroboree", "Skin" and "Walkabout".

What separates Bangarra from other dance companies is the way their work is infused with a deep spirituality and sense of family, no doubt influenced by the remarkable Page family at its core. Bangarra retains the ability to pass on these qualities to new new dancers as they are absorbed into the company.

Having been lucky enough to have seen most of Bangarra's programs over the years, I found it fascinating to watch familiar sequences from earlier programs, being superbly performed by the current generation of dancers, particularly while archival footage of the originators of those dances was played behind them.

One particularly moving moment occurred in the second act when footage of the late Russell Page was played. I was particularly aware that his brother, choreographer and Artistic Director of Bangarra, Stephen Page was sitting behind me, and I couldn't help wondering what was running through his mind at that moment. I got my answer at the reception following, when Stephen Page confided to the guests that he was still moved by watching performances of "Fire".

There were so many extraordinary moments to savour in this performance; like the remarkable opening moment when the lights rose slowly to reveal a suspended canoe-like nest, from which a dancer slowly emerged and dropped to the stage; the apparition of a battered car from which emerged several menacing figures to threaten a lone figure; later, when film was projected onto the base of the now overturned car; the powerful quartet of prisoners, each trapped in his own spotlight, screaming profanely "The Lord's Prayer"; or the drugged-out woman writhing on a filthy mattress in the car headlights; or perhaps the remarkable blanket dance; or even the graceful Torres Strait Island sequence with the whole company clad in grass skirts .

A remarkable production in its own right, "Fire" was also an extraordinarily powerful reminder that over the years Bangarra Dance Theatre have developed a totally unique style of choreography, absolutely distinct from any other dance company in the world. It also gives us the opportunity to marvel at the strength and technique of the current crop of dancers, who will be charged with the responsibility of preserving and presenting the extraordinary legacy they inherit to new audiences in Australia and around the world during the next twenty years.

Bill Stephens 22.11.09