Review / Seamless Bangarra’s masterwork

dance
“Patyegarang”
Bangarra Dance theatre
At Canberra Theatre until July 19.
Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Bangarra’s Jasmin Sheppard and Thomas Greenfield… “I've always been the kind of person who looked for something more spiritual,” says Jasmin. Photo by Jess Bialek

Bangarra’s Jasmin Sheppard and Thomas Greenfield… “I’ve always been the kind of person who looked for something more spiritual,” says Jasmin. Photo by Jess Bialek

BANGARRA Dance Theatre is like no other dance company performing in Australia today.

Bangarra dancer Jasmin Sheppard in the title role of “Patyegarang”. Photo by Greg Barrett

Bangarra dancer Jasmin Sheppard in the title role of “Patyegarang”. Photo by Greg Barrett

It dances to the beat of its own drum, guided by the clear-eyed vision of artistic director, Stephen Page, who is not only one of the country’s most respected and innovative choreographers, but also able to clearly and ingenuously articulate his vision, as demonstrated in the standing-room only first-night, pre-show forum.

For his newest work, to celebrate Bangarra’s 25th anniversary and presented in Canberra directly after its inaugural six-week Sydney season, Page has incorporated all the elements that make Bangarra unique – skilled dancers with a distinctive movement vocabulary, fluid, idiosyncratic choreography, superb design, original music and excellent production values.

Determinedly abstract in its telling of the relationship between an Eora woman and an officer in the First Fleet, and performed to a stunning soundscape by David Page which includes snippets of the Darug language, “Patyegarang” is both visually and aurally arresting.

Within an evocative textural landscape created by Jacob Nash and lighting designer, Nick Schlieper, and echoed in Jennifer Irwin’s gorgeous sculptural costumes, the work moves fluidly and seamlessly through a series of mesmerisingly beautiful episodes, which include at one point, the smell of burning eucalypts.

Jasmin Sheppard is luminous as Patyegarang, and Thomas Greenfield, the only non-indigenous member of the cast, impresses as William Dawes. Both Waangenga Blanco (Ngalgear) and Elma Kris (Burulalalalung) are stand-outs for their strong presence in what is essentially an ensemble masterwork.

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