Inspiring dance program, injected with laughs

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The audience laughed at the delightful larrikin twinkle in the animal shapes and cheeky combinations, which bought a welcome injection of humour to this inspiring program… Photo: Daniel Boud

Dance / “30 Years of Sixty Five Thousand”, Bangarra Dance Theatre, at Canberra Theatre, July 18-20. Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS. 

THERE is a compelling sense of spirituality and mission that separates the work of Bangarra Dance Theatre from other dance companies.

Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the exquisite final sequence of the Frances Ring work “Unaipon” in which the whole company performs to the haunting “Miserere”. Entitled “Religion” it is but one of many highlights in this outstanding program, which celebrates the 30 years of existence in which Bangarra Dance Theatre, under the clear-eyed stewardship of Stephen Page, has established itself as a world leader in indigenous dance.

Canberra is only the second city to see “30 Years of Sixty Five Thousand” following its inaugural five-week season in the Sydney Opera House, after which it will be presented in every Australian capital city. 

The program consists of three individual works. Frances Ring’s “Unaipon”, originally created for the company in 2004, is a perfect example of the work for which Bangarra is justly celebrated. Stunningly costumed by Jennifer Irwin, an evocative set design by Peter England, and gorgeously lit by Nick Schlieper, “Unaipon” consists of a number of visually arresting sequences inspired by the studies of Aboriginal inventor, philosopher and storyteller, David Unaipon, whose image is featured on the $50 note. Each sequence is a visual feast. In “Sister Baskets” bare legs protrude unexpectedly from under woven baskets. Young men perform intricate patterns with strings in “String Game”. Bodies collide and bounce off each other in “Motion”, and stunningly costumed dancers represent the four winds, in which Tyrel Delvarie in an amazing costume fashioned from long reeds as the west wind, is a standout.   

Similarly the final work in the program “To Make Fire” also consists of a series of favourite sequences drawn from three of Bangarra’s previous programs, “Mathinna”, “About” and “Clan”, and cleverly reworked by Stephen Page as a compelling stand-alone showcase. Particularly memorable among many highlights was a dramatic trio from “Mathinna” entitled “Adoption” powerfully danced by Lillian Banks, Rikki Mason and Tara Gower.

Perhaps the most intriguing work in this program is the one that wasn’t built on the company. Jiri Kylian’s “Stamping Ground”, which was preceded by a short film, included images of an extraordinary corroboree, which inspired the work, and the comment from Kylian that he had carefully avoided copying any of the dancer’s movements, but only their inspiration.  

Kylian’s idiosyncratic movement palette, impressively danced with meticulous attention to detail, by Tara Gower, Baden Hitchcock, Rika Hamaguchi, Ella Havelka, Tyrel Dulvarie and Rikki Mason, at first surprised, then delighted at the realisation that Kylian’s particular inspiration may have been the more larrikin dancers in the throng, prompted bursts of laughter among the audience. The audience laughed at the delightful larrikin twinkle in the animal shapes and cheeky combinations, which bought a welcome injection of humour to this inspiring program.           

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