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Bangarra dances with precision and drama

Bangarra Dance Theatre performs “Yuldea”. Photo: Kate Longley

Dance / “Yuldea”, Bangarra Dance Theatre. At Canberra Theatre until July 22. Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

IT has been interesting to watch Bangarra Dance Theatre’s gentle transition under the artistic directorship of Frances Rings. 

Rings has always been a passionate exponent of the use of dance to portray Australia’s history through the lens of the indigenous experience. 

With “Yuldea” she has focused on the Great Victorian Desert and the far-west region of SA, where she herself grew up. It was an area for the gathering of many tribes, with a rich history of colonial incursions, among them, the building of the trans-Australia railway and the atomic testing at Maralinga. 

“Yuldea” attempts to portray the effects of these events on the traditional life of the original inhabitants of this land. 

As with all Bangarra Dance Theatre presentations, the design elements are superb. A throbbing soundtrack heralds the opening scene, which is performed behind a scrim. Through the haze, groups of dancers suggest the arrival and departure of itinerant tribes. 

Lighting design by Karen Norris takes advantage of every opportunity offered by Elizabeth Gadsby’s spare, sculptural setting to endow it with a pervading sense of mystery and atmosphere. 

A horizontal, light-filled column that initially hovers above the dancers, then later frames them in a giant arc, dominates this setting, which is backed by a graceful string curtain that allows dancers to enter and exit the shiny, ochre-strewn stage.

Jennifer Irwin continues to amaze with her bold combinations of soft-textured fabrics and bare skin to achieve a feeling of primitiveness and high fashion that compliments the bodies of the dancers, as well as serving the drama of the subject matter.

Nowhere is her aesthetic better exemplified than in the stunning “Kapi Spirit” duet performed by Lillian Banks and Kallum Goolagong. 

Responding to an evocative soundscape by Leon Rodgers, Ring’s choreography is sophisticated, resourceful and captivating to watch. Often embracing acrobatic elements and beautifully resolved groupings, it is danced with precision, drama and commitment by the dancers. 

Despite the beauty of the images throughout, it was often difficult to recognise the intended significance of the symbolism ensconced in the various sections as suggested in the information provided in the printed program. However, “Yuldea” still provides a memorable evening of superbly presented dance.

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