Director: Stephen Page
The Studio Theatre, Bangarra, Wharf 4
September 24 – October 9, 2022
Created by Stephen Page together with writer, Hunter Page-Lochard, and Bangarra alumni dancers and choreographers, Elma Kris and Sani Townson, Waru is Bangarra’s first dedicated work for children. Following the journey of Migi, a small green turtle, on her way back to the beach where she was born, this gentle and endearing Torres Strait Islander story, while raising contemporary environmental concerns is anchored in traditional wisdom.
Aimed at a 3- to 7-year-old audience – but appealing to any age – the young are supported in making the transition from the daylight world to the world of story. The setting is evening, and beneath a starry sky, a woman sleeps in her island home, covered by silky sea-coloured cloth, evoking both dream and peacefulness. There is time to settle, and soothed by the voice of Migi Maai, caretaker of all the water, time to slip into the quiet attentiveness that lets a story work its magic.
When the woman (the truly wonderful Elma Kris) awakes, it is in response to the return of Mother Turtle to the place of her birth. Intimately connected with this heroic and mysterious creature, she introduces herself as Aka Malu, caretaker of the island, and in a loving and playful way she transmits the customary rituals for care of the turtle. Sand must be swept from its path, and in a lovely moment of interactive theatre, the willing children are asked to help push the weary turtle (Aba Bero capturing its slow lateral gait) into its nesting place.
The deep magic of the life force is created by the projection of the two moons that mark the incubation of the eggs, by the glowing egg in Aka Malu’s reverential hands and the “birth” of little Migi as she appears in projection form. As she begins her journey from the shallows into the ocean Aka Malu invites the audience to imitate the little turtle’s gliding movement and the sweep of its flippers – imitations that form the basis for dance.
Her journey is arduous and long, and many of the challenges she faces are those generated by human practices, but she returns and again Aka Malu will sense her coming, again the laying of the eggs and again the journey. It is in the connection between turtle, island, and islander that the continuity of life resides.
Waru is well considered and imaginative theatre for children. There are moments of sheer fun, for instance, an intrepid Aka Malu, admirer of the martial arts, defeats a greedy lizard (Bero) in search of Mother Turtle’s eggs, and a moment of simple joy as Kris and Bero perform a Torres Strait Islander song. There is time before and time after the performance to learn about the danger posed by ghost nets through well-set-up craft tables, to play with turtle puppets and look at some fascinating curios from the sea.