MESSAGE OF HOPE
The indigenous Bangarra Dance Theatre produces performances that register and resonate in our national consciousness
Countless words have been written and uttered in the name of reconciliation but few have done as much to advance the cause as the works of Bangarra Dance Theatre.
Often the creative process promises more than the outcome delivers yet, time and again, year after year over the past quarter-century, the indigenous company has produced performances that register and resonate in our national consciousness, informing and broadening our collective identity.
Bangarra’s latest production, Lore, arrives in Brisbane this week following a hit premiere Sydney season, which was extended owing to demand. Both of Lore’s doublebill works, Sheoak and I.B.I.S., address issues of identity and heritage in the face of contemporary challenges, presenting complementary portraits of land and sea.
Bangarra, a flagship performing arts company representing the voice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, is known for nurturing and building for the company’s future from within.
Lore’s themes of exploring the cycle of past, present and future in those communities are reflected in the lives of the production’s three choreographers. Former company dancer Frances Rings’s connection to Bangarra spans 22 years. Sheoak is the award-winning resident choreographer’s seventh creation for the company, while fledgling choreographers Deborah Brown and Waangenga Blanco have drawn on their Mer (Murray Island) ancestry to hatch I.B.I.S. The longtime members and lauded dancers also perform in I.B.I.S. An acronym for Island Board of Industry and Services, the modern-day I.B.I.S is a shop that serves as a hub of island life. It’s the focal point for a song and dance celebration of a vibrant and joyous culture forged by sun, sea and sand, balancing modern and ancient ways.
“That’s what we do, that’s what theatre is, we’re bringing people into this space and creating a world,” says Blanco, who grew up in far north Queensland at Mission Beach.
Wanting to “bring a little summer into the cold winter”, Blanco wants people to leave the performance with “a warm heart and a big smile” and also “knowledge of where the Torres Strait Islands are”. Hopefully, that’s not as much of an issue in their home state as other parts of the country but what might be less wellknown is the threat of displacement addressed in I.B.I.S., which islanders face from rising sea levels.
“People are being relocated from the western islands of Torres Strait where they’re starting to go under,” Blanco says.
“It’s a real threat and we wanted to bring a bit of attention to that. You hear the elders talk about ‘if the islands go down, we’ll go down with them’, like a captain with a ship. There’s a real pride in Torres Strait Islanders and resilience and we wanted to leave people with a message of hope.” For Brisbane-born Brown, the best feedback for I.B.I.S. has been that it has helped people see indigenous identity in a positive light.
Bangarra Dance Theatre’s latest production, Lore, arrives in Brisbane this week.