Friday, July 29, 2016

Our Land People Stories: Bangarra

Our Land People Stories:  Bangarra Dance Theatre at Canberra Theatre Centre, July 28-30, 2016.
National Tour dedicated to David Page.

Macq by Jasmin Sheppard  Music by David Page
Miyagan by Beau Dean Riley Smith and Daniel Riley  Music by Paul Mac
Nyapanyapa by Stephen Page  Music by Steve Francis
Sets designed by Jacob Nash
Costume Design by Jennifer Irwin
Lighting Design by Matt Cox

Reviewed by Frank McKone
July 28

Bangarra belongs to this country in a way that I know I never fully can.  I arrived here a mere 61 years ago, invited by Australia’s non-Indigenous government as a £10 Pom with little knowledge of the country’s short history since 1788, and absolutely no idea of its true history since its First People began arriving after their long trip from Africa about 50,000 years ago.

Tonight I feel privileged to have been invited into our country by Bangarra, perhaps our only truly national theatre, whose work is as modern as today while it stretches our culture back in time, almost immemorial. 

While I might refer back to Shakespeare or Chaucer, or even with a lot of imagination back to Ancient Greece, a mere couple of thousand years, the three dances performed tonight take us first via Governor Macquarie’s declaration of war in the Appin massacre of 1816 in Jasmin Sheppard’s Macq.  Then we go on a great learning curve of understanding of the matrilineal totemic kinship system of the Wiradjuri nation still in place today right here surrounding Canberra, in the Riley family’s Miyagan.

Finally, after such powerful works by the younger choreographers, Bangarra’s Artistic Director since the company’s inception 25 years ago, Stephen Page, presents his new work derived from the art of Yolngu woman Nyapanyapa Yunupingu, in a creative exchange where her paintings are danced into our consciousness a world away from Yirrkala in far North-East Arnhem Land.  As Nyapanyapa pictures the changes over time of new experiences, such as the arrival of buffalo and the young generation’s modern music and dance, so she becomes the central figure in Stephen Page’s dances.  Like her, at my 75 years, I identify with the shock of sometimes frightening change.

But Macq brought me to tears as it made me think of the teenagers in the Northern Territory’s Don Dale Juvenile Detention centre, seen being violently ill-treated even to the point of torture on ABC TV’s Four Corners last Monday night.  The words spoken by the NT Chief Minister back in 2010 about putting juvenile ‘criminals’ in a ‘concrete hole’ and actions of the detention guards were no improvement on Governor Macquarie’s diary record of 1816 justifying killing all who failed to obey his soldiers’ orders.

Miyagan in contrast was a wonderful positive experience to watch, as the dancers played for real, in their very dancing, the theme of the work: ‘Wiradjuri culture, language and customs are alive; our heartbeat is resilient and strong’.

It’s that heartbeat, knowing that Bangarra dances are for real, danced with knowledge and understanding of their history and culture, that makes this company unique and essential for all of us Johnny-come-latelies to learn from.  May we learn to mind our ways.