In a highly affecting and inspiring trio of works, Bangarra Dance Theatre acknowledges and celebrates history, family and art in OUR land people stories.
From the harrowing Macq to the joyful Miyagan to the edifying Nyapanyapa, the works are not only well matched as a moving sequence of storytelling but are also beautifully curated as a unified program. Sharing a set designer (Jacob Nash), costume designer (Jennifer Irwin) and lighting designer (Matt Cox) gives the evening an artistic through line, and yet the talent and creativity of these contributing artists gives each piece a distinctive tone and texture.
Housing the work in a black box, Nash adds scenic elements that stand out crisply. The slowly increasing installation of wiry strands and thick feathers adds to the abstract feel of Miyagan. Large-scale reproductions of the works of visual artist Nyapanyapa Yunupingu create a stunning backdrop as the artist’s life story is represented in Nyapanyapa.
Cox keeps the surroundings inky black whilst bathing the dancers and scenic elements in warm, clear light. A particularly powerful effect is achieved in Macq when slaughtered bodies on display in the trees are bathed in an eerie red light.
Irwin contributes a stunning variety of costumes, individual enough to appear to have come from at least three designers but with a shared quality of being perfectly fitted so as to balance theatrical effect and comfort for dance. Politicians in Macq are denoted with oversized decorative military jackets. Family members in Miyagan share muted neutral tones. Art comes to life in Nyapanyapa when dancers sport hot pink outfits as Bush Apples.
Based on the 1816 Appin massacre, Jasmin Sheppard’s 2013 work Macq begins with a powerful statement on the depth of individual loss by focusing on one woman mourning over the body of a once strong, young man. A colonial picnic gives way to a tense face off between Governor Macquarie (Daniel Riley) and a traditional Aboriginal man (Beau Dean Riley Smith).
David Page’s abstract soundscape includes spoken diary extracts of Macquarie justifying the massacre. Macquarie’s tone sounds reasonable but the words are sickening. In a dramatically charged solo, Riley portrays the torment of the words on Macquarie as hears them play; the audience shares his repulsion.
Following Macq in the first half of the program, the optimism and cheer of Miyagan bring some welcome relief. Set to music by Paul Mac, Riley and Riley Smith have imbued their work with the driving energy of a celebration of family unity and strength. Amidst featured solo pieces, the moment of unison ensemble dance are particularly striking.
Stephen Page’s new work Nyapanyapa continues the positive vibe after interval with a representation of the life of Nyapanyapa Yunupingu. Elma Kris given a sympathetic, involving portrayal of Yunupingu, highlighting the artist’s fascination with nature and her involvement with the people that fill her life.
Nyapanyapa begins with a defining incident when the young Yunupingu was gored by a buffalo. Page gives a clear expression of the connection between all living creatures when the buffalo, danced majestically by Waangenga Blanco, is seen to be sorrowful as Yunupingu after the attack.
Steve Francis’ score moves through a range of styles as various aspects of Yunupingu’s artworks are represented on stage. Merging art and dance directly, two metre high dolls are arranged in formations by the dancers as Lost Wendys. Wearing gorgeous modern prints, the dancers move with upbeat energy in front of one of Yunupingu’s gorgeous crosshatch paintings.
In an extraordinarily generous move by Bangarra Dance Theatre, the glossy, highly informative 44-page program for OUR land people stories is complimentary for audience members.
OUR land people stories is as beautifully performed as it is stunningly produced. Attendance is highly recommended for all arts lovers.
The national tour of OUR land people stories is dedicated to David Page.
OUR land people stories plays at Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne until 10 September 2016.
Photos: Vishal Pandey aka wanderlust73