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Dance Clan

Dance Clan
Bangarra Dance Theatre
Artistic Director: Frances Rings
Bangarra Studio Theatre
February 3-18, 2023

This year’s thrillingly bold revival of the Dance Clan program begins a new era as the gracious Frances Rings assumes the role of Artistic Director at Bangarra, formerly held by the iconic Stephen Page. Rings is strongly committed to building a sustainable future for both the company and artists, and Dance Clan 2023 includes emerging theatre designers and composers.

As an on-screen introduction to each work, the choreographers – Sani Towson, Ryan Pearson and Glory Tuohy-Daniell – give the audience an insight into the personal and cultural inspiration for their storytelling. For Townson it is a deeply felt desire to show respect for his Torres Strait Island heritage but also to pay homage to his grandfather that motivates his reflective work entitled Kulka or bloodlines.

In the opening sequence a blue-clad ethereal Tuoy-Daniell seems to float magically above the dark figures supporting her, evoking a lovely sense of connection between spirit and island world. By contrast, the formality of flag signalling, important to Townson’s grandfather, emphasised through geometrical floor lighting, suggests the lines and protocols that bind a group together. The complexity of the whole and shifts in feeling must have presented a challenge to composer Amy Flannery.

Ryan Pearson’s 5 Minute Call is an instant crowd pleaser. In his introduction Pearson recalls madly joyous times spent with his sisters rapping to Missy Elliot, capturing his audience and keeping them on the up-beat as his crew of six dancers share individual moments of crazy happiness. While their togetherness is evoked through a “uniform” of oversize shiny suits, each is individualised by a motif, and a deeper connection suggested through the interchange of jackets. A medley of voices – sisters, friends – give an intimacy to the storytelling, and composer Brendon Boney sustains the energy.

A well-balanced program, the final work choreographed by Tuohy-Daniell, Keeping Grounded, brings us back to earth. In her introduction, Tuohy-Daniell meditates on the loss of energy once gained through walking barefoot on the earth, linking it with the disconnection experienced in moving from Country to city. A massive net with gaping holes – suggesting both lack of protection and entrapment – dominates the stage and is manipulated to indicate different moments in Tuohy-Daniell’s story of spiritual dislocation. Clever use is made of the hands-in-the-pockets stance that seems to typify the assumed assurance of urban attitudes but also evokes a sense of restricted movement as does the tightening sharp-elbowed knot of the dancers. Most memorable is the isolated and despairing figure of Daniel Mateo both caught in or falling through the net.

Shana O’Brien’s sets are imaginative, Clair Parker’s costumes are responsive to choreographic intention, the composers create a musical backdrop that supports and enhances the audience’s perception of the choreography, and the choreography carries Bangarra into an excitingly reimagined future. The dancers , as always, are grounded in culture and dazzingly contemporary in style.

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