Friday, July 27, 2018

Dark Emu - Bangarra

Review by John Lombard

The ‘Dark Emu’ is a constellation that cannot be seen in the stars, but only by looking at the colour of the night sky.  In the same way, Bangara’s interpretive dance inspired by the Bruce Pascoe book invites us to peer into apparent darkness and see what has always been there.

Pascoe’s book dispels the myth that Aboriginal people in Australia were only hunter-gatherers by recounting the sophisticated land management practices used for tens of thousands of years, passed from “mouth to ear”.

Translating scientific knowledge into dance is challenging, and artistic director Stephen Page opts for a taxonomy of traditional practice: the feast on Bogong moths is one sequence, while a controlled burn ceremony is another.

Oversized props such as a giant banksia seed cast humans in a humble role, and the performance avoids individualising the dancers in favour of ensemble work.  Soft, sinuous dancing creates a dreamlike quality.

Costumes by Jennifer Irwin and set by Jacob Nash are prominent and memorable, and an emphasis on side lighting giving a sense that we are watching history by the flicker of candlelight.

Where the book Dark Emu is most creatively adapted, is in the decision to bookend the performance with dancing in silhouette.  At first this felt like rediscovering a past obscured but now coming back into light.

By returning to dancing in silhouette at the end of the piece, the performers created a morbid feeling that this knowledge is in danger of being lost again, perhaps forever.

Dark Emu is not as attention-grabbing as last year’s sensational Bennelong, but tackles a challenging topic with vivid artistry.