Terrain, Bangarra Dance Theatre

Terrain is where spirit and place meet.

This new full length work by choreographer Frances Rings is comprised of
nine short pieces, beautifully stitched into a patchwork of landscape
inspired wonder. The accessibility of this format impressed me. It is an
unique invitation to experience these artists’ interpretation of the
indigenous people’s relationship to country, in particular to the vast
and changeable waterway, Lake Eyre.

Rings’ choreography is idiosyncratic, which, for a 65 minute piece with
costume, design and music changes providing colour and impetus, is not
such a bad thing. Common themes and motifs linked the short works with a
signature mood of fluid connectivity and a style that asks the dancers
never to simply make shapes. With limbs always driving the next movement
on and through the body and back again, the individual movement as well
as that adopted in ensemble work had a fluidity that well captured the
ebb and flow of water and the desert landscape.

There were times, however, where I longed to see space between the
dancers and for the action to be oriented in more than one dimension.
This was especially evident in the quartet “Reborn” where the movement
was, for the most part, directed and presented frontally. Perhaps a
deliberate choreographic decision, I nonetheless found myself wishing to
move about to gain an alternate view of the bodies being manipulated in
space. Feet stretching and flexing in sequence during lifts and floor
presses become familiar sights as did many movements that were initiated
by body rolls, shoulder, rib and hip isolations. They were possibly
overused at times.

Highlights included “Shields”, a men’s ensemble that used bark shields
as symbols and tools against the struggle for Land Rights and
Recognition. These white painted and stylised props were manipulated
about individual bodies and around the throng of dancers, thrust
rhythmically in restrained and deliberate movements reminiscent of the
beating heart.

"Spinifex" though overlong and repetitive with the body rolls and isolations mentioned earlier, held a fascinating balance between
structured choreography and what appeared to be an invitation for
dancers’ own interpretation of theme and style. Almost improvisational
in quality, these women, donning branched headdresses and mesh skirts,
moved close to the ground in both undulating and staccato movements
inspired by the trees around Lake Eyre.

"Scar" marked a change in dynamic and a welcome freedom from the focus on the earth by featuring energetic choreography and long awaited
elevation complemented by a sound scape composed by David Page. Speaking
to the impact of humans on the enviroment, this shift, while short
lived, was marked by a change in scenery against a desert red backdrop,
and an almost post-apocalyptic costume style.

While partner and group work were always strong and secure, it was
refreshing to see the final works, “Reflect” and “Deluge” explore
sensuality through eye contact and physical touch. Hands and limbs up to
this point were tools for support and transportation, yet here
fingertips whispered over flesh and bodies intertwined in ways that
spoke of fertility and the fluid continuation of a natural life cycle.
As the work came to a close, the choreography featured the full company
in watery hued sarongs harmoniously coming together in unison, tracing
pulsating, circular patterns in the space that hinted at a continuing
journey.

It is a joyous thing to see these dancers’ relationship to the earth,
the ground, the floor. How grounded and connected they are, knees bent,
feet spread with an assurity of finding the stage again on the rare
occasions they alight from it.

A Bangarra Dance Theatre experience is
always one that mesmerises and touches one primally and spiritually.
While I wasn’t left gasping in the same way a past program like “Fish”
may have, I still experienced a dream-like state, a sense of calm focus.
I feel privileged to have witnessed an expression of a people’s
exploration of a place that inspires and teaches as it endlessly
transforms.

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Terrain continues at Her Majesty’s Theatre
until September 1.

Photography: Greg Barrett