Co-curated by Stephen Page, Jacob Nash
December 4-14, 2019
Bangarra Dance Theatre is a precious and fragile national and international treasure. As this year marks the 30th year since its inception and foreshadows a generational change, the immersive installation Knowledge Ground: 30 years of sixty five thousand celebrates the launching of an archival platform which catalogues and curates Bangarra’s history online.
We already have a debt of gratitude to this remarkable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performing arts company for not only sharing the sacred stories of an ancient culture, but also making us feel the deep cultural connection between the Indigenous people and the land, sea and sky. Through Bangarra’s unique fusion of contemporary lives with ancient spiritual practice and perception, we experience both the ravishing beauty of this connection and the deep grief at its dislocation and loss through colonisation. The company’s truth-telling is unapologetic, and Bangarra itself is a site of resistance and a testimony to Indigenous resilience.
Navigating the six thematic presentations of the installation – History, Country, Social Issues, Costumes, Soundscape and Homelands – not only recalls the now iconic imagery of the company’s repertoire but also demonstrates the company’s commitment to shaping each of its productions into an authentic, unique and organic whole. The detail and fabric of the costumes (designed by Jennifer Irwin since the 90s), the rich and emotive mixing of language and innovative sound (represented by David Page’s moving “The Young Man”) that is so distinctive of the Bangarra experience, and the absolutely stunning stage design work with and through the dancers (their bodies as the medium of magical storytelling projected at above head level) create a complete and mesmerising world.
The highly polished yet dark floor of the installation gives an extra dimension to Nash’s wonderful image from the opening scene of “Bennelong”. A single, enormous and glowing circle suspended in dark space – all-encompassing creation, continuous, eternal, its impact really beyond words, beyond thought – is reflected again and again.
The speakers at the launch, Miriam Corowa, Stephen Page, Artistic Director, Jacob Nash, Head of Design, Yolande Brown, former dancer to whose careful construction we owe the new digital platform, and the gracious Francis Rings, Associate Artistic Director, were one in expressing their gratitude to the many communities across the land that have entrusted Bangarra with their sacred stories. They were one also in emphasising the need for the company to return to Country, regularly maintaining their connection with the ancient knowledge that has fuelled Bangarra’s culture for 30 years.
The exhibition – and the new site – is about “tending the ground for the future and ensuring there is cultural fuel for the next generation of storytellers, fire-makers, cultural caretakers”. We have entered the world of Bangarra through a dark passage lit by small simulated fires and we take our leave assured that Bangarra is living up to the promise of its name which means in English “to make fire” – to fuel, to energise, to inspire.