Friday, July 19, 2024


Choreographer: Frances Rings
Bangarra Dance Theatre
Sydney Opera house
June 13 – July 14, 2023

Yuldea, the anticipated full-length performance choreographed by Frances Rings in her new role as Artistic Director of the iconic Bangarra Dance Company, is an extraordinary achievement. With a lovely meld of lyricism and tragedy, Ring’s work tells the story of the impact of colonialism upon the First Peoples of the Far West Region of South Australia – a truth hard to bear but one integral to the process of healing.

The set design (Elizabeth Gadsby) while economical, creates a sense of a special place using a double arch, symbolic of the threshold between time and space. Initially high above the stage, a white velvety semicircle floats above a semi-circular backdrop of long shimmering strips, a veil through which dancers can enter, leave or be partly visible. The story’s setting, Yooldil Kapi, a permanent clay pan waterhole concealed by surrounding dunes, was the gathering place for many Indigenous groups, important for survival in a harsh environment and a repository of sky lore and ceremonial practice.

The story begins on an ominous note as the clans gather to observe the night sky. With that special facility known only to Bangarra the cast of dancers move as one, slip into groups, cling and cleave, and flow back into a whole in repetitive mesmerising movements that compellingly convey difference but unity. Fear permeates the group – their sensing hands spasm, their fluid bodies stiffen – as a supernova signifies a coming change.

To establish the catastrophic nature of that change, Act II lyrically evokes the sacred and crucial nature of the clay pan to the desert clans’ way of life. In a hauntingly beautiful pas de deux, Lilian Banks and Kallum Goologong depict the creator water spirits to whom the landscape owes life, their twining movement enhanced by the delicate frothing of Banks’ costume. In turn, the life-supporting water diviners – birds, dingoes and the roots of the red mallee – each with a defining choreography and divine costuming (the incomparable Jennifer Irwin) show the deep reverential connection between place and life.

Act III depicts the violence and horror of the changes brought to a way of life, thousands of years old, by the juggernaut of governmental decisions. Tellingly and painfully, decisions that resulted in the draining of Yooldil Kapi – the railway’s construction is cleverly imagined – and the pollution from Maralinga are preceded by a voiceover enunciating a royal promise through a Letters of Patent (1836) guaranteeing the rights of Aboriginal people and their descendants and happen against a striking score provided by Electric Fields. The agony of loss and the incomprehension of the clans – the ‘x’ on their costumes signifying their apparent non-existence and transition from unity to separation – is heartbreakingly captured by the dancers through anguished choreography.

Yuldea ends with the gentle, reverie-like performance from the full ensemble. Despite human dislocation, sky lore is eternal as the constellation overhead signifies. The memory of suffering can never be erased – as the rails suggest – but Yuldea, the story of Ring’s own heritage, signifies a refusal to be a victim by giving voice to the truth of the past.

Many thanks to all – the very creative team, the generous cultural consultants – who contributed to production. And a special acknowledgement to the passionate commitment of the dancers whose energy and dedication made Yuldea a joy to witness.

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