Sunday, July 14, 2013


Bangarra Dance Company,

Canberra Theatre 11th to 13th July 2013 

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Even after nearly 25 years as Australia’s vanguard indigenous dance company Bangarra Dance Theatre still manages to surprise, move and inform. Its latest work “Blak”, combining the choreographic skills and imaginations of Stephens Page and Daniel Riley McKinley is a cohesive, visually arresting and superbly danced creation. 

Hunter Page-Lochard and male ensemble
Photo: Greg Barrett
Presented in one act divided into three sections, the first section “Scar”, choreographed by Riley McKinley, commences with a group of young men dancing in a circle.  A corroboree or an urban bon fire?   Among screaming sirens, glaring headlights and cleverly stylised fights, they smear themselves with white paint and exchange T-shirts which they carry in their mouths like ceremonial regalia. Brilliant lighting, a driving, evocative soundscape and the clever use of contemporary and traditional movement are brilliantly fused by Riley McKinley to blur time-lines and suggest the timelessness of the testosterone fuelled behaviour of young men searching for identity.

Yolande Brown, Deborah Brown, Nicola Sabatino
Photo: Greg Barrett
No less affecting is the gentler second section, “Yearning”, superbly choreographed by Stephen Page, in which the women of the company dance a series of vignettes illustrating a  grandmother’s  grief over a young girl’s suicide, the loss of native language, domestic violence and the search for self-identity. For this section the costumes of Luke Ede are particularly beautiful.

For the final section, “Keepers”, the company, and the choreographers, combine for a spectacular ceremonial which begins around a huge rock belching smoke and cleansing water. Brilliant dancing from the entire company, a stunning soundscape and magnificent set and costume design combine in this powerful sequence which ends with a spectacular curtain of sand, perhaps signifying the timelessness of the struggle for indigenous identity.
Beau Dean Riley Smith  and Bangarra ensemble
Photo: Greg Barrett

Despite the seriousness of some of the topics, “Blak” is a spectacular and celebratory work in which the dance and production skills of Bangarra Dance Theatre have seldom been better showcased.

Deborah Brown, Daniel Riley McKinley
Photo: Greg Barrett
      This review first published in the digital edition of  CITY NEWS on Friday 12th July 2013