Friday, July 21, 2023




Choreographed by Frances Ring and the dancers of Bangarra Dance Theatre. Set designer. Elizabeth Gadsby. Costume designer. Jennifer Irwin. Lighting designer. Karen Norris. Composer. Leon Rodgers. Guest composers. Electric Fields. Bangarra Dance Theatre. Canberra Theatre. July 20-22 2023. Bookings: 62752700

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins.


Connection and collaboration lie at the very heart of Aboriginal culture. Nowhere is this more evident than in Frances Ring’s first work for Bangarra Dance Theatre since taking over from Stephen Page as artistic director. Truthtelling, healing and hope embody Bangarra Dance Theatre’s work. 

Deeply personal, Yuldea is a  powerful and moving account of her mob’s confrontation with colonial incursion and the impact of industrialization upon a culture, lore ceremony and kinship of the Nunga people of far west South Australia and the Anangu people of the Great Victorian desert.     Yuldea’s story is one of oppression and displacement. It is also one of resilience and survival. In four acts, Ring’s dancers enact the connection between sky and water, land and custom, incursion and destruction. The collaboration and ritual so beautifully expressed by Ring’s remarkable dancers in Act 1 is devastatingly represented in  Act 3, Empire, when the Trans Western Railway weaves like a steel serpent through their land.  The true horror of the white man’s impact is graphically evoked in Act 3’s dance sequences -  Mission and Black Mist. The dancers capture the devastating influence of alcohol, disease and dependency. In one chilling sequence dancers are dragged across the stage while struggling to escape. The traditional connection with earth is proud and communal in Act 1 becomes an image of oppression in Act 3.. Ring’s choreography is a poignantly visceral reminder of historical abuse and humiliation. The black mist of Maralinga that enveloped the Anangu people, bringing the spectre of death assumes a dark foreboding in Leon Rodgers’ score and Karen Norris’s lighting on Elizabeth Gadsbys cyclorama setting.

Yuldea is a visual and aural delight that touches the heart. Designer Elizabeth Gadsby’s open staging of Rings’ work accompanied by Norris’s striking lighting effects and Rodgers’ and Electric Fields’ emotive composition allows for a diversity of choreography and emotional response. Collaboration creates a harmony of spirit and understanding. There is a fusion of empathy in every aspect of the work and an audience is swept along in a spectacle of sound and light and dance. Rings' vision is translucent and transformative and the company shines in the shared light of her vision.

Ring and her creatives and dancers share a story that combines traditional and contemporary dance in perfect contrast and infusion. The four acts of the dance reflect the dignity of lore and custom in contrast to the cruelty of opportunistic ignorance. And yet in Act 4- Ooldea Spirit Yuldea offers hope as connection and collaboration come together to celebrate unity of spirit and kinship

Ring has stamped this wonderful work with her own distinct artistry. Her dancers respond to her distinctive choreography and the moments of traditional  connection to the earth, combined at times with balletic movement, graceful lifts, trust falls and acrobatics. There is a complexity to the story of Yuldea and its many conflicting stories and Ring with her dancers has  continued to explore new ways to carry the stories of their people forward into the future.

Maybe they too have been inspired by Selena Walker’s Welcome to Country and its embracing tone of reconciliation and hope. Art is political and in this historic year of  a referendum to determine a voice to parliament in the constitution Bangarra has created a dance work that reminds us of the stories that have led to this point in time and signal the hope of a new age of connection,collaboration and reconciliation. Bangarra’s Yuldea is probably the most important performance that you are likely to see this year. Don’t miss it.

Photos by Karen Longley