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Bangarra’s ‘bold, epic’ dance hits home for Rika

Rika Hamaguchi… “I feel like the way we work, there is a Bangarra vocabulary.” Photo: Daniel Boud.

WHEN Rika Hamaguchi was a young schoolgirl in Broome, she never dreamt that one day she’d be dancing and travelling the world with Bangarra Dance Theatre.

She’ll be here soon with “SandSong: Stories from the Great Sandy Desert”, Bangarra’s newest piece and its first original creation since 2018, since in 2019 they celebrated their 30th year by bringing back old works.

“SandSong”, according to co-choreographers Stephen Page and Frances Rings, was created in consultation with Wangkajunga/Walmajarri elders from the Kimberley and Great Sandy Desert regions, and is “a glimpse into the world of the Walmajarri and Wangkajunga people from the Great Sandy Desert, who survived incredible disadvantage to keep strong a lasting cultural bedrock for future generations”.

It’s something that hasn’t been touched on yet, and for Hamaguchi, this new exploration absolutely hits the spot in terms of location – she’s from Broome.

Uniquely in the company, Hamaguchi’s ancestry is partly Japanese and she tells me, “the pearling industry is why I have such a mixed heritage, Asian-Indigenous-European, with my indigenous ancestry through the Kimberley as well as around Broome and inland east.”

She’s only been to Japan once, with Bangarra when they toured there, but she says it’s on the top of her list as soon as travel is possible again, because she’s “heard a lot of similarities between indigenous and traditional Japanese people in terms of culture”.

“I’m not one of those dancers who started when I was three,” she says. 

“I started in high school, when there was a dance elective in the curriculum, nothing serious… but my dance teacher told me about NAISDA [National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association] Dance College on the Central Coast of NSW and said, ‘you might as well audition’.”

It didn’t mean much to her at the time, but to her surprise she got a place, went on to do a four-year diploma course and graduated in 2014, receiving a placement into Bangarra the following year.

Hamaguchi’s first show with the company in 2015 was the double bill, “Lore”, and she’s been with them ever since.

“I’m very grateful, I can work and see the world,” she says, describing her “amazing journey”. 

Since she joined, she’s been on overseas trips every year up to 2019, to Canada, Germany, Denmark, Japan, India, the US and Paris.

An avid speaker, she outlines the grand visions we’ll witness in “SandSong”, which she says is “bold and epic visually… every element, the set by Jacob Nash, the costumes by Jennifer Irwin, the lighting by Nick Schlieper, the music by Steve Francis – all the different elements come together. It’s very big and very sensory”.

Rika Hamaguchi and dancers, “SandSong”, Sydney Opera House. Photo: Daniel Boud.

This is the first time they’ve done a work about the Kimberley.

“I feel like the way we work, there is a Bangarra vocabulary,” she says, but you can sense the difference in “SandSong”. It’s about a completely different part of Australia, which is refreshing. 

“Best of all, it comes from my home place,” she says.

“‘SandSong’ gives an opportunity to bring in the question of country, sacred places and also the displacement when you’re off-country and how that affects people, particularly the situation of elders taken away 40 years ago who still know the details of the place they’ve come from.” 

It’s by no means a narrative, and while Hamaguchi plays a person linking each section, she emphasises that this is an ensemble work and not about her.

Bangarra Dance Theatre, “SandSong: Stories from the Great Sandy Desert”, Canberra Theatre, July 15-17, book here or call 6275 2700. 

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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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