Friday, July 27, 2018


Dark Emu. 

Based on the  book by Bruce Pascoe. Dramaturged by Alana Valentine. Choreographed by Stephen Page, Yolande Brown and Dan Riley. Music by Steve Francis. Set Design by Jacob Nash. Costumes by Janet Irwin. Lighting by Sian James-Holland. Bangarra Dance Theatre. Canberra Theatre.  July 26 – 28 2018. Bookings: or 62752700

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Bangarra Dance Theatre Ensemble in Dark Emu. Photo: Daniel Boud
“How can I find words for that?” asked a friend as we left the Bangarra dance Theatre’s performance of “Dark Emu”.  “The performance left me speechless.” The Chair of Bangarra Dance Theatre, Michael McDaniel, told the assembled guests at the after show function. To say that Bangarra Dance Theatre is unique is an understatement.  It is  the only major professional arts company reflecting entirely indigenous stories, culture and history through its evocative fusion of traditional and contemporary dance. The company’s artistic creativity under artistic director, Stephen Page, and his team is nothing short of extraordinary. Dark Emu, adapted from the book “Dark Emu” by Bruce Pascoe and dramaturged by Alana Valentine resonates with the very living heart and spirit of country. Every aspect of production immerses the audience in what is so much more than an exhibition of Bangarra’s extraordinary talent as the only major company that has its cultural origins in the land.
To really understand the process of collaboration and inspiration that is the creation of Dark Emu, buy a programme and immerse yourself in the Q and As that explain  Bruce Pascoe’s book, Alana Valentine’s dramaturgy, Stephen Page’s philosophy, Steve Francis’s composition, Janet Irwin’s costumes, Sian James-Holland’s lighting and the visceral chorography of Yolande Brown and Daniel Riley. For what is most amazing about Bangarra’s work, apart from its commitment to the stories of its peoples and countries, is its collaborative artistry. It finds expression in every segment of the performance- from the opening visual impact of the Milky Way’s Dark Emu in the galaxy to the giant seed pod suspended above the stage to the banksia smoking fire and bringing life and purification to the land to the violent ignorance of the invading Europeans, the destructive threat of the blowflies or the moving rituals of a people whose love and respect for the land and traditions epitomize a history of great promise encircled by the chains of shame. Bangarra’s chronicle of the past offers a prophesy of promise for the future, if the blind shackles of ignorance and fearful prejudice can be lifted. It does this not with the barbed sting of words or the angry rebuke of protest. It does it with the magical enlightenment of their dance, emerging from the land, rising to the spirit of their creation and discovering meaning and purpose in their rituals, beliefs, clans, customs  and allegiance to their mother, Nature.
Bangarra Dance Theatre Ensemble in Dark Emu.Photo: Daniel Boud
 To watch the moving patterns of their dance is to be mesmerized and transformed, to find meaning and to be transported to a new level of consciousness. I watch their amazing physical dexterity, grace and emotional power with the eyes of a white man and feel the power of their message with the mind and heart of all humanity. The collaborative nature of Bangarra’s work in dance, music, visual splendour and storytelling fires the soul, ignites the passion and in every entrancing moment of choreography breathes enlightenment and gentle lessons in our shared humanity.

Dark Emu, as with all of Bangarra’s creative works transcends criticism. It invites us to view their world with a critical eye that can lead to deeper understanding, respect and the power to make a difference. Next year, Bangarra will celebrate thirty years on Australia’s cultural landscape. Without them, we might still be wandering blindly through a desert of ignorance. Theirs is a priceless gift and an artistry beyond compare.