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Flash Review 2, 6-21: Paging History
Bangarra Launches 'Boomerang'

By Chloe Smethurst
Copyright 2005 Chloe Smethurst

MELBOURNE -- Stephen Page's latest work for Bangarra, "Boomerang," premiered at the Playhouse here June 9. The title is representative not only of the journey depicted in the performance, but also that of Page himself, as he travels between two worlds. Trying to incorporate traditional knowledge and culture with the strains of modern life, Page has made a conscious decision to include large sections of traditional aboriginal dance in this work, as a healing and knowledge-building process.

The set for "Boomerang" is a simple but adaptable design by Peter England, which features a shallow trough of water running the width of the stage and an upright, textured backdrop, moodily lit by Nick Schlieper. The dancers first appear onstage as a tightly knit family group, gently treading through the water, as though arriving on the shore of a new land.

Throughout the work there are references to both modern and traditional aboriginal cultures. "Boomerang" highlights current subjects such as alcoholism and domestic violence, as well as specific north-eastern Arnhem Land traditions like fishing, gathering roots and spiritual dances. In some of Page's earlier choreography, traditional and contemporary moves were mixed together, but here they are presented very separately. In this way the traditional dances are preserved and shared, but the approach also makes the piece quite slow as we wait for each pattern to resolve itself before moving on.

Page has employed a simple narrative tool to link the sections of the work, by casting his young son Hunter Page-Lochard (alternating with Rhimi Johnson-Page) as the Child, alongside the company's cultural consultant Djakapurra Munyarryun as the Elder. The pair make brief appearances in each scene, representing a family rekindling the "sacred wisdom of the past." It is a device that is at times facile, and overly sentimental.

Nevertheless, there are sequences which demonstrate Page's choreography at its best. "Barrdamy" (Mining) combines quite angular, abstract movement with rapid gestural phrases reminiscent of a kangaroo. "Dream Sequence" features fluid, symmetrical patterns in Page's signature style, with arched backs and contractions, flexed feet in attitude and a strong connection to the ground.

When I viewed "Boomerang" on June 15, the ensemble was quite strong, though not at its best. The majority of the dancers have joined the company in the past two years, and have not yet gelled sufficiently with Page's style to be able to give the kind of masterful performances previously seen.

Senior dancers Elma Kris and Patrick Thaiday, however, were both outstanding. There is something about the gravity of their focus combined with the integrity of their dancing that draws the eye.

While this is not the strongest program Bangarra has presented, it is significant for the importance placed on accurately presenting traditional dances.

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