‘Dark Emu’ and ‘Bennelong’ by Bangarra Dance Theatre
Split by Lucy Guerin Inc and Arts House Attractor by Dancenorth, Lucy Guerin Inc, Gideon Obarzanek and Senyawa Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Bennelong and Dark Emu are united in their unflinching examinations of Australia’s colonial history. Through the medium of dance they expose truths that have remained hidden for centuries.
Bennelong (performed here by Beau Dean Riley Smith, who won an Australian Dance award for the part) was a tragic figure. He was there to see the invasion of Australia begin and was almost certainly the first Aboriginal person to attempt to live in both cultural worlds, Indigenous and European. Bennelong is a powerful work, informing the audience of the horror of the times in a visceral and emotional way. The dancers move through clouds of ochre dust and smoke, pausing in seemingly impossible positions during unbelievable flight.
The colonisers are terrifying and it’s impossible to ignore their brutality. Yet the victims, Indigenous people, are impossible to dehumanise. Bangarra has found a way to infuse every movement
with story, and when Bennelong is finally imprisoned and consumed by his place in society, we cannot help but feel it as a gut punch.
Dark Emu is an expressionistic response to the Aboriginal agricultural history book of the same name by Bruce Pascoe. Less narratively tight than Bennelong it is nevertheless powerful work. I could feel, watching it, the frustration of the defamation all Indigenous Australians live with. We were never nomads.
Both Bennelong and Dark Emu drill straight into the audience’s emotions and tear them apart from the inside. That is the reality for many Indigenous Australians. Our stories, our experiences of colonisation and racism, cannot be put easily into words that outsiders
can understand. The flow of the dancers, the atmospheric music and the sets make the audience feel the story in a way words cannot.
Claire G. Coleman