Choreographer: Francis Rings
Bangarra Dance Theatre
Sydney Opera House
June 10-25, 2022
At this time of environmental crisis, the timely and breathtaking revival of Frances Rings’ Terrain celebrates Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre as a unique space where spirit, land and meaning meet. The enchanting perfection of this production, evoking the power, mystery, danger, and beauty of this ancient landform left its opening night audience spell-bound and they rewarded the jubilant dancers with a well-deserved standing ovation.
Bangarra is known for its dedication to visual integrity and in Terrain, presented as nine linked ways of experiencing the land, the stage craft is beautifully integrated. Jacob Nash’s abstract backdrops – sometimes stark, glaring, and salty, at others darkly threatening and ultimately flowing with gold and blue life – fall and rise enacting the unceasing cycle of the natural world, well supported by Karen Norris’s ever-varying flow of light.
A varied soundscape by the late David Page enhances the movement of the nine phases from longing to transformation. Whether loud and insistent or softer and murmurous a continuous pulse underpins concept of the continuum of life. The use of vocal elements, of buzzing, scratching and natural sounds matches the feathers, twigs, wools and textured materials of Jennifer Irwin’s imaginatively conceived costumes.
Lovely examples of this creative melding are “Reflect” (Lillian Banks, Ryan Pearson) where two dancers in soft greys – who might be birds or spirits – traverse the silvery and sacred space where earth and sky meet or the haunting and startling impression created by the headdresses and eyehole skirts of “Spinifex”.
The dancers are magnificently dedicated. In the opening section “Red Brick”, a graceful Courtney Radford, contained, supported and restrained by urban life, movingly expresses the longing for Country and the need for renewal through contact with ancestral connections. “Salt” offers a vision of a larger and ancient power that might still be felt in that immense cracked salt basin isolated as it has been from the worst of exploitive human influence. When in a large group, as in “Deluge”, the dancers are astounding in their capacity to move as one, dividing, re-dividing, coming together, flowing away, crossing, recrossing always in motion and somehow always both grounded but seemingly in a timeless world.
Kati Thanda has been the home of the Arabunna people for thousands of years, and Arabunna Elder Uncle Reg Dodd was cultural consultant in the making of Terrain. He felt it was important to share knowledge, and the stunningly beautiful Terrain makes significant contribution to non-Indigenous understanding of how Aboriginal people experience their connection with country. The layered Terrain can also be read as an affirmation of the survival, and the resurgence, of Aboriginal culture and the very real possibility that ancient ways may yet protect the land from the ravages of climate change.