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Review 3, 6-24: Dreamtime
Into the "Bush" with Bangarra
By Chloe Smethurst
Copyright 2003 Chloe Smethurst
MELBOURNE -- Without
a second viewing, it's difficult to pass judgment on Stephen Page
and Frances Rings's latest work. Performed by Page's company, Bangarra
Dance Theatre, at the Playbox June 12, "Bush" is a complex mix of
many different images and vignettes. As always with this company,
backed by a solid original score (by David Page and Steve Francis)
and masterfully evocative sets the dancers had a lot to work with.
The premise for "Bush"
is quite spiritual, with choreography that draws upon two different
spheres of inspiration. The main concept is that the images have
been influenced by indigenous Dreamtime stories, or creation myths,
which have been passed down through an oral tradition spanning 40,000
years. The second, and more subtle theme in "Bush," is as a celebration
and ceremony for Page's brother and Bangarra dancer Russell, who
away last July.
With such a weighty
subject matter, the work needed a guide, someone to help to draw
the strings together. This task was performed by Aboriginal elder
Kathy Balngayngu Marika, who remained visible for most of the piece.
Baingayngu's presence was that of a spiritual leader, often in the
background, providing support and guidance throughout the different
scenes that were portrayed.
For me, the style in
which Bangarra works has always been one of the most fascinating
things about the company. Page and Rings didn't disappoint this
time around with their use of traditional indigenous dances blended
with inventive contemporary choreography. Their dedication to performing
the traditional dances also added to the sense of ritual within
the work. Again, without seeing the performance a second time I
am loathe to make statements about the quality of the work, but
it did seem that some sections were decidedly stronger than others.
The parts that I believed worked particularly well were not necessarily
the most narrative, which is perhaps a personal bias.
Dance Theatre in Stephen Page and Frances Rings's "Bush." Greg
Barrett photos courtesy Bangarra Dance Theatre.
sections titled Bush Pearl and Feather were both created by Page,
and contained full and sensual female solos that captured for me
the essence of the work. In Feather, described in the program notes
as, "preparing the spirit and body for its journey into the next
life cycle," soloist Rings danced with a sense of wonder and underlying
passion that was infectious. I felt completely drawn into the world
that she created on stage.
Conversely, Stick, where
the dancers represented spiritual messengers in the form of stick
insects, left me feeling rather alienated. While the use of wooden
poles to create the illusion of an insect-like shape was interesting,
the choreography, in this section by Rings, didn't communicate very
much to me.
The finale was built
from a combination of four smaller sections under the heading Ceremony.
Dressed all in black, the ensemble created a depth of spiritual
feeling beautiful to behold. It was here where the influence of
Russell Page's death could be felt most strongly, and where perhaps
the dancers had been united by their loss. The sections were strongly
linked, both stylistically and in the smooth transition from one
to another, which added to the impact.
Set design by Peter
England added another dimension to the stage, and allowed Marika
to look down upon the dancers from a cleverly camouflaged platform.
It also gave the dancers mangroves to move through and reflected
gorgeous images of feathers and sticks as was appropriate.
In fact all of the work
by the supporting artists was magnificent, including music, costuming
and lighting. These elements combined to help place Bush in the
"galaxy of poetic imagery" that Page invites us to in his program
Overall, "Bush" is a
work so full of imagery and intention that it was impossible to
digest it all in one sitting. Nevertheless, the aftertaste was definitely
palatable and very enjoyable.
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