Friday, July 27, 2018


Dance stories inspired by Bruce Pascoe’s ‘Dark Emu, Black Seeds: agriculture or accident?’
Artistic Director: Stephen Page
Choreographers: Stephen Page, Daniel Riley, Yolande Brown and the dancers of Bangarra Dance Theatre
Composer: Steve Francis
Canberra Theatre to 28 July

Reviewed by Len Power 26 July 2018

Bruce Pascoe’s 2014 book ‘Dark Emu, Black Seeds: agriculture or accident?’ was an excellent basis for Bangarra Dance Theatre’s new production, ‘Dark Emu’.  The book’s intention was to disprove the long-held and convenient myth that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were only nomadic hunter-gatherers before European colonisation.

The depiction of sophisticated farming and fishing practices and the stories of harmonious exchange and respect and of working in sympathy with the seasons, ultimately interrupted by the coming of the Europeans, provides a dramatic basis for a highly memorable dance work.

The seamless choreography by Stephen Page, Daniel Riley, Yolande Brown and the company’s dancers is an exploration of the relationships between the sky and earth, the land and the seasons, the animals, plants and people as well as the rituals and ceremonies that are in step with the pulse of the land.  The dramatic structure of the work and the flow from one segment to another is clear in detail and intention and is hauntingly beautiful and involving.

The company of dancers perform the work with great precision and skill but there’s also an individuality of character clearly evident as you watch them perform.  Focus on any dancer through a sequence and you can see that they are displaying a strong commitment to the message of the work in their dancing.

Production values are very high.  From the opening scene with its cave-like illusion of depth and continuing through the various segments, the set design by Jacob Nash is successful in conveying a vast visual world for this saga of time and culture.  The excellent and intricate lighting design by Sian James-Holland complements the setting with the colour and light of the landscape depicted.

Beau Dean Riley-Smith and dancers

The music composed and performed by Steve Francis is a fabulous soundscape that weaves in songs and poetry, much of it spoken or sung by members of the company.  It gives the production a highly individual atmosphere.  Jennifer Irwin’s costumes reflect the land, the flora and fauna and are strikingly beautiful.

This is a very thoughtful and engaging work that is also visually and aurally exciting.  Bangarra’s unique style and attention to detail in every element of the production makes this a memorable evening of dance.

Photos by Daniel Boud

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast in his ‘On Stage’ performing arts radio program on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3.30pm on Artsound FM 92.7.