Friday, July 19, 2019



 UNAIPON Choreographed by Frances Rings. THE STAMPING GROUND. Choreographed  by Jiri Kylian. TO MAKE FIRE comprising  MATHINNA Reprise, ABOUT Reprise. and CLAN  Choreographed by Stephen Page. BANGARRA DANCE THEATRE. Canberra Theatre. Canberra Theatre Centre. July 18-20 2019. BOOKINGS: 62752600.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

If anyone were to doubt that Bangarra Dance Theatre is Australia’s national cultural treasure, the company’s latest offering 30 YEARS OF SIXTY FIVE THOUSAND is enough to dispel all doubt. Superlatives are not enough to heap praise on every aspect of Bangarra’s current production and its three thrilling works.  From the opening impact of Unaipon, a remarkable tribute to aboriginal inventor, philosopher, writer and storyteller Ngarrindjeri man, David Unaipon, audiences are drawn into the magical mystique of an extraordinary man’s curious mind. From philosophizong on the origin and arrival of the aboriginal people to the planet sixty five thousand years ago to the intricate sequence of sister basket weaving and the storytelling wonders of the string games, Bangarra’s versatile and athletic dancers weave mystique and science into Frances Rings’s evocative choreography.  Nothing escapes either David Unaipon’s enquiring mind or the expressive muscularity and suppleness of the ensemble to the diverse compositions of the late David Page. Everything from Peter England’s celestial and scientific design to Nick Schlieper’s atmospheric lighting and Jennifer Irwin’s traditional and contemporary costuming lend this work a mesmerizing power as the dancers embrace the past and the mysteries of origin and science. Every fibre of their bodies conjures the shifting moods and expressions of perpetual motion from the beginning of time to mechanized humans eventually coalescing in an acceptance of all peoples. In David Unaipon we confront a true renaissance figure and Rings’s choreography embraces the vast scope of his intellect. Traditional gesture and contemporary interpretation fuse in a profound understanding of humanity and an appreciation of the gift that the indigenous inhabitants of the continent have to give to the nation.

In 1980 Czech choreographer, and future director of the Nederlands Dance Theatre, Jiri Kylian  visited Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and witnessed their rituals and ceremonies. He was so inspired by the spirit and the energy of their dance that he choreographed The Stamping Ground, inspired by his life changing experience. Bangarra has revived the work as a centrepiece of the celebratory programme. It is a remarkable work, not because it so beautifully captures the imagination and the individuality of the dancers depicted on the 1980 film at the commencement of the work, but because it is so relevant to the understanding of the gift that the First Nation people have given to the contemporary culture. The dancers are superb, capturing cameo moments of identification with the animals and the humour and irony of their lives through the dance. Every aspect of the individual pieces and the ensemble work reflects Kylian’s passion and admiration and Bangarra’s indisputable attachment to country and the earth that nourishes the life of its people. It is the physicalization of the connection to land, and nature that endows The Stamping Ground with a deep affection for country and its people. Powerfully accompanied by Carlos Chavez’s percussive composition and Kylian’s own referential and earthy set design. Of the three works, this is the one that speaks to the non-indigenous members of the audience with impactful relevance and reverence.
The final piece of this extraordinary retrospective and acknowledgement of people and country, To make Fire depicts a selection of works that recognize the rich tapestry of Bangarra’s work over the past thirty years. In some respects, it is akin to a retold story, lovingly preserved and revealing new truths with each reading. We have seen the choreography before, but not with such immediacy and contemporary impact. The dance, the themes, the visual imagery denote the importance of a tradition that contains the heart of a people, their spirit and their stories, Like all of Bangarra’s work it is both graceful and athletic, fiery and gentle, agile and ethereal, supple and sinewy. It is the metaphor and the symbol. It is the imagination and the instinct. It is the beauty and the evocation of dance. To Make Fire, with its familiar choreographic patterns and echoes of a people who have inhabited the country for sixty five thousand years reminds us of a shared humanity, a shared experience and the debt we owe to tradition and the symbolism of story.

I have seen much of Bangarra’s work, but the reference to the genius of David Unaipon, the inspired reimagining by Jiri Kylian and the echoes of a past tradition have left me with an indelible respect for the art of our indigenous inhabitants and the gift that they have given to all Australians, if only we could have the humanity and the love to recognize and embrace it.

30 Years Of Sixty Five Thousand is a work for all Australians to experience and understand, indigenous and non indigenous. I would hope that all people could have access to this brilliant work. It has the power to change lives and change a nation.