The Monthly (Australia) - - NOTED -

Ban­garra Dance Theatre Syd­ney Opera House (tour­ing Can­berra, Bris­bane, Mel­bourne)

On the way to the Syd­ney Opera House to see Ben­ne­long, I passed a win­dow dis­play­ing a por­trait of the Wan­gal man. Along­side it hung a col­lec­tion of the hu­mil­i­at­ing breast­plates foisted on Ben­ne­long and other First Aus­tralians by the English in­vaders. The build­ing, one of Syd­ney’s most lux­u­ri­ous, is home to Mac­quarie Bank.

No­body owns a story, they say. But that’s in an ideal world where every­body has equal ac­cess. Ban­garra Dance Theatre’s ver­sion of Ben­ne­long takes the man as close to his peo­ple as pos­si­ble; the com­pany’s head­quar­ters on the har­bour is right near where he was born. Ben­ne­long was just over 20 in 1789, and his in­ter­ac­tions with the English were in­tense. He learnt the lan­guage, trav­elled to Eng­land, adopted West­ern dress and the habit of al­co­hol, and died trag­i­cally young. His life was the pro­to­type of a per­son try­ing to fit into two cul­tures; the suc­cess, or fail­ure, of that en­deav­our is what this work ex­plores.

Al­though this work is about an in­di­vid­ual, artis­tic di­rec­tor Stephen Page fit­tingly de­fines Ben­ne­long in terms of coun­try and com­mu­nity. Dom­i­nat­ing the show are en­sem­ble pieces, more or less chrono­log­i­cal. The early vi­gnettes are thrilling, the whoosh and stamp of the dancers meld­ing seam­lessly with Steve Fran­cis’ sound, the en­ergy pour­ing off the stage. In a de­pic­tion of first con­tact, the dancers sniff one an­other – a sub­tle ges­ture, hard to chore­o­graph, but here ren­dered in the most deft, witty, pri­mal way. Much of the tragedy and vi­o­lence ex­pe­ri­enced by Ben­ne­long and his best-known wife, Baranga­roo, isn’t de­picted, and the spear­ing of Gover­nor Phillip at Manly Cove gets a bit lost. But ‘On­slaught’, about small­pox, is in­tensely mov­ing, bring­ing us close to those thou­sands of deaths.

The com­pany is cur­rently 18 mem­bers strong, their work to­gether co­he­sive and fluid. Beau Dean Ri­ley Smith as Ben­ne­long is con­sis­tently pow­er­ful and mag­netic. Other stand-out per­for­mances come from Elma Kris and Yolanda Lowatta.

Jen­nifer Ir­win’s cos­tumes blend the con­tem­po­rary and tra­di­tional, and Fran­cis weaves in mu­sic from long-time Ban­garra col­lab­o­ra­tor Matthew Doyle and other com­posers, but the master­stroke is the use of the text by dra­maturg Alana Valen­tine. Words float through as con­cise and evoca­tive as po­etry.

The end­ing is ter­rific, Ben­ne­long’s fate pre­serv­ing, con­ceal­ing or im­pris­on­ing him. Which took me back to that win­dow dis­play. To won­der­ing about own­er­ship. Mac­quarie Bank has been one of the com­pany’s bene­fac­tors. In these dire times for fund­ing it is good to see Ban­garra en­dure. The gen­eros­ity of this dance com­pany is le­gendary; be­hind ev­ery pro­duc­tion is work in com­mu­ni­ties across the con­ti­nent. Ben­ne­long will tour over the next three months. See it if you can.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.