SOMBRE CONFRONTATION FOLLOWS JOYFUL PARTY
BANGARRA DANCE THEATRE: LORE
Venue: Playhouse, QPAC until August 15
Reviewer: Olivia Stewart
THE double bill lore: dance sto
ries of land and sea presents opposite sides of the same coin.
Torres Strait Islanders and Aborigines unite under the banner of Australia’s indigenous peoples, yet each has a unique identity and its own history, cultural traditions and challenges.
These are reflected in lore’s two works, I.B.I.S. and Sheoak.
They share the essence pervading Bangarra Dance Theatre’s quarter-century oeuvre: reflect, educate, celebrate.
But the paths they take in doing so are very different in approach and outcome.
I.B.I.S. (named for the Islands’ general store cum social hub) could be described as following a more typical Bangarra structure in its incorporation of native language, traditional and contemporary movement infused with imaginative, beautiful imagery and characterised by immediacy and clarity of its themes.
While simple and straightforward in its staging, I.B.I.S. is also clever and striking in paying homage to historical and modern influences in Torres Strait Islands life.
Among many memorable sections, “Cool Down” stands out as particularly redolent to survivors of sultry Queensland summers, featuring the female ensemble silhouetted against and steaming up vertical freezer doors.
Created by senior company members and nascent choreographers Deborah Brown and Waangenga Blanco, and featuring a vibrant soundtrack by Steve Francis alongside group percussion, cheering-on and singing, the overriding mood of I.B.I.S. is buoyant and joyous, a Torres Strait Island party; difficulties are acknowledged yet not weightily.
In contrast, Sheoak confronts the threats to Aboriginal heritage and life head-on.
It is perhaps the most sombre and challenging of former Bangarra dancer Frances Rings’ seven works for the company – not only for the audience, but in her artistic practice.
As part of that process to step outside her comfort zone – urging the performers to do likewise – she started for the first time with the design.
Based on the centrepiece of the fundamental scar tree, Jacob Nash’s starkly effective minimalist set uses poles symbolising not only trees and their limbs in different configurations (as do towers of dancers) but also bare bones and ribs.
David Page’s score is also a departure, echoing the brooding introspection of the journey Rings takes us on through destruction of old ways (“Place”) and dysfunctional adaptation to the new (“Body”). The toxic effect on the men is brilliantly and palpably depicted.
However, overall Sheoak’s theatricality is more abstract than in Rings’ previous works, making the sectional themes identified in the program notes less apparent and the audience possibly feel more distanced.
Like I.B.I.S., though, it ends on a note of hope and resilience. The concluding segment “Spirit” evokes an enchanted ethereal atmosphere, and while the impact is diffused by its length, Sheoak resolves in a powerful singular statement.