WHEN British explorer Edward John Eyre first saw the lake that would be named after him on August 27, 1840, he was struck as much by its “extraordinary effects of mirage and refraction” as by its “melancholy prospects”.
It is that mixture of rarity and desolation that amazed three members of Bangarra Dance Theatre when they visited the unusually full lake (properly called Kati Thanda) around a year ago.
To composer David Page, it seemed “so silent, so desolate” that he turned to choreographer Frances Rings and suggested, only half-joking, “maybe we should dance to nothing”.
To designer Jacob Nash, who joined the others in a small plane flying over the lake, the bewildering reflections offered “a showcase of colours”.
This unforgettable journey resulted in Bangarra’s newest work, “Terrain”, due in Canberra next week.
“Terrain,” Page tells me, “has no story, no narrative – it’s more a respectful celebration of a beautiful part of the country that means so much to all people in Australia.”
During their five-day visit, local Arabuna elder and tourism guru, Uncle Reg Dodd, told them stories of the early inhabitants of the area, far predating Eyre’s “discovery” of the lake.
Page, of course, is one of the brilliant Bangarra trio of Page boys from Brisbane, also made up of his dancer brothers Stephen and the late Russell.
His part has been to compose music that is accessible, but resonant of ancient cultures.
Once “Little Davy Page”, Australia’s answer to Michael Jackson, his life has defied indigenous stereotypes, seen in his hilariously touching show “Page 8,” now being turned into a movie.
“It’s good to have a look at Aboriginal Australians living in cities,” he tells me, “not everybody is living on missions with kangaroos hopping down the street.”
In creating music for “Terrain”, he turned to his favourite instruments, using an electronic beat and adding bilma, (ironwood clap-sticks) yidaki/didgeridoo, rhythmic hand-clapping, chest-beating “and a tiny bit of language.”
“My music is very minimal and sometimes it’s the dancers who create a rhythm with their bodies,” he says.
All the same, he wants people to say to him: “Oh my God, that’s an amazing soundtrack!”
Bangarra Dance Theatre’s “Terrain”, Canberra Theatre, September 13-15, bookings to 6275 2700 or canberratheatrecentre.com.au
Free pre-show forum with David Page and Frances Ring in the Link, Canberra Theatre, 6.30pm September 13. No bookings required.