‘Dark Emu’ and ‘Ben­ne­long’ by Ban­garra Dance The­atre


No­table men­tions

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

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