Briwyant begins with the sound of a story wanting to be told. As it searches for the Dreaming in an urban world and looks for the songlines that still connect us all to country, this is contemporary Australian dance at its most compelling.
Director, choreographer and Wirradjerri woman Vicki Van Hout was brought up in Dapto in NSW, spent time in an infamous Woolloomooloo artist squat, studied dance at the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association (NAISDA) College, trained in New York and moved back to Australia to perform with Bangarra in the mid 90s.
Working collaboratively with her dancers and creative team, Briwyant’s stories start with images that perpetuate Indigenous culture. Inspired by the Yolngu word bir’yun, which describes the crosshatch shimmering on a painting’s surface, like a dot painting, some of Van Hout’s meanings are obvious, while others are hidden or only clear with a learnt understanding. None of which makes her choreography and images any less beautiful or intriguing.
With remarkable dancers (Henrietta Baird, Raghav Handa, Rosealee Pearson, Beau Smith and Melinda Tyquin), Van Hout’s distinct choreography melds traditional Indigenous movement with a New York-inspired post modern fluidity. This result is grounded and precise, but unpredictable and always surprising. As is the soundtrack where silence, live narration (Van Hout) and the dancer’s voices are as important as the music.
With playing cards as the dots creating a river through the land, colourful sarongs, live footage filmed in Van Hout’s grandmother’s country and lighting (Neil Simpson) that makes the stage look and feel like another map and uses the contemporary magic of shadows and static to change how the dancers are seen, the design is so integral to the dance and dancers that it’s impossible not to understand the link between country and people.
I saw Briwyant’s as a work about finding connection. It’s meaning isn’t always clear, but dance like this is visceral and its story reaches our guts in ways that words fail.