Saturday, July 13, 2024

Horizon

Horizon
Bangarra Dance Theatre
Artistic Director: Francis Rings
Sydney  Opera House
June 13 – July 13, 2024

Bangarra is a national treasure, and Horizon continues its mission of both celebrating Indigenous cultures and enriching the mainland through a visually stunning and dynamic double bill. Our horizons are broadened by the traditions and wisdom so generously imparted, and the beauty and passion of the performance ensures that the stories will be valued.

The show opens with Kulka choreographed by Sani Townson, a short but powerful piece, celebrating the culture of Saibai in the Torres Strait. It is followed by the longer The Light Inside which presents two aspects of water dwelling peoples: “Salt Water”, choreographed by Deborah Brown and “Fresh Water” by Moss Te Ururangi Patterson with input from the Bangarra dancers. All three choreographers are inspired by the desire to pay homage to their family, Townson to his grandfather, Brown to her mother and Patterson to mothers and grandmothers, to those Elders who carry the languages, songs and dances that connect the individual to their culture.

Townson’s deeply felt desire to pay homage to his grandfather, and through him his island heritage, motivates his reflective (literally) work Kulka or bloodlines. In the opening sequence a blue-clad ethereal figure seems to float magically above the five dark figures supporting her, evoking a lovely sense of connection between spirit and island world. A rear projection of his grandfather’s image across which the light-footed dancers move conveys the idea that traditional knowledge passed down through Elders is the means through which that precious connection with home is maintained. The work comes to a thrilling climax when the clan totem, the ancient and predatory Crocodile, possesses the dancers, validating the spiritual connection between clan and nature.

The Light Inside, while the creation of two different choreographers, is concerned with the importance of preserving cultural practices as a way of maintaining a visible presence, an idea also of paramount importance for Townson. Each work asks a community to remember the past, keep traditional practices alive in the present and look to a future, different perhaps but still based in the spirit.

Deb Brown’s story is set in the islands of Badu and Mer in Torres Strait. Its centre is the Blue Star, a delicate solo, whose guidance is ever present as the story evokes first the historical past, the uncertain present, and points to a future. Three dancers, symbolising both the sails of a seafaring nation and visitors, glide majestically past while three energetic divers demonstrate their vigour and the risks of their way of life. Nevertheless, there is thankfulness for the wonder – four coral maidens – and the shelter – the strength of the full ensemble – of the reef, as well as the challenge of the present as dancers become politicians. The work concludes with a lovely interpretation of the seed of preserved knowledge and the assurance of growth from the full ensemble.

By contrast, Moss Patterson’s work is more abstract. While having the same theme, a return to the spirit, Patterson tells his story mostly through the full ensemble, and it has astonishing impact. The collective movement, beautifully choreographed and performed with loving precision, confirms the notion of “my people”, the group soul, the collective higher self. Most memorable, and the only exception to the full ensemble, is the stunning “Sacred Hair”, a traditional story of the sacred feminine.

Horizon is a fresh, exciting and invigorating performance from Bangarra. The company’s greatest achievement is its dancers, whose deep respect for the stories they are telling is impressive in this age of so-whatness.

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