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BANGARRA DANCE THEATRE : HORIZON AT THE DRAMA THEATRE SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE : A CAPTIVATING WORK

HORIZON is a first for Bangarra – it is a partnership between two First Nations peoples of Oceania that combines those of the continent of Australia and the Torres Strait Islands and Aotearoa (New Zealand) in a hefty double bill, its major themes being the link to Country – how we are all linked and need  to preserve the land and environment, a sacred, treasured connection that has been in existence for aeons (for us Aussies think The Dreamtime) and the significance of place and identity. It is Bangarra Dance Theatre’s first mainstage, international collaborative initiative, a significant venture.   

It is led by Bangarra’s second Artistic Director Frances Rings. Bangarra alumna Deborah Brown (a proud descendent of the Wakaid Clan and Meriam people in the Torres Strait, and has heritage from far across the seas in Scotland), Sani Townson (former Bangarra dancer and now Youth Programmes Coordinator with the company) with The Light Inside being  a collaboration between Brown and Māori choreographer and Arts Laureate Moss Te Ururangi Patterson, the Director of Auckland’s New Zealand Dance Company. In some ways HORIZON could be described as a triple bill as The Light Inside is in two separate parts.  

The dancing for both works was exceptional, fluid, blending traditional Islander songs and dances and contemporary styles. 

With a cast of nine and based on traditional stories, Kulka (meaning’ blood’), choreographed by Townson, pays respects to Townson’s Torres Strait Islander background and his grandfather – honouring his clans, constellations and the night sky, as well as the island of Saibai’s rapacious crocodile (not forgetting snakes and cassowaries).The assorted clans and totems form the underlying structure and values of the Islanders. 

As designed by Clair Parker, the women are in what appears to be blue evening dresses and the men have black scales coated to their bodies. Are these snakes? A commanding role is given to Kassidy Waters who at one point was held upside down and carried across the stage. 

 Townson’s choreography contains unusual lifts, crawling, cycling movements, patterns and the use of diagonal crossing of the stage.  

Amy Flannery’s score had a strong rhythm and was catchy. Elizabeth Gadsby and Shana O’Brien’s set involves a huge mirror over the back wall of the stage, with the top tilted towards us, allowing for another performance surface.  

David Bergman’s video design uses these impressively, with projections on both – the cast interact with a crocodile god, wrestle with animated martial artists and gambol in colourful expanses as if the dances were rolling in paint. 

Kulka concludes with a vision of stars, a recognition of both our heritage and future.  

Crash! After interval, The Light Inside, choreographed by Moss Te Ururangi Patterson and Deborah Brown, was very striking. It could possibly be considered a double bill itself as it is split into two parts. Patterson is a descendent of the Wakaid Clan and Meriam people of the Torres Strait and also has Scottish ancestry. 

Patterson’s choreography is at times sculptural, slinky and includes slips, slides and slithers, extended creamy backbends, being tossed high into the air and there are perhaps influences of the Haka and Graeme Murphy’s style. The ensemble work ebbs and flows. He develops an evocation through dance in collaboration with sixteen Australian First Peoples a depiction of their Country and his.  

Steve Francis and Brendan Boney’s score pulsates, throbs and crackles, including an eclectic mix of percussion, the human voice, didgeridoo, and a collection of sounds from the environment ( birds,rain, wind, the crashing ocean and more).   

Karen Norris’ atmospheric lighting included dramatic shadows and the use of spots.  

Bangarra stalwart Jennifer Irwin’s wonderful costumes are based on the environment, sea and land, boldly including ochre, glitter, blues and greens, orange, pink, feathers and flowing skirts. Lengthened sleeves were used at one point, controlled by the dancers so they became an expressive union.  

Elizabeth Gadsby designed both works of Horizon and for the Light Inside. We see a massive, burnished rockface.   

Karen Norris’ impressive lighting for The Light Inside evokes Lake Taupō, on the North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand, where Patterson spent his childhood. 

Salt Water was Deborah Brown’s offering, also using a Steve Francis score. The choreography was lustrous, the stars are blue and act as a guide for the Torres Strait Islanders. 

A captivating work 

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s production HORIZON opened at the Drama Theatre Sydney Opera House on June 13 and closed on July 3, 2024. 

Production photography by Daniel Boud

 

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