Commissioned in 2010 by Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director Stephen Page, of earth & sky has enjoyed a successful touring run to find home — for a very limited time — at Sydney’s Glen Street Theatre. And if you didn’t see it at the Opera House, you should see it now.
Featuring the work of choreographers Frances Rings and Daniel Riley McKinley (this dancer’s choreography debut), of earth & sky is comprised by two separate works anchored by an interval, and it’s a feast for the senses, bursting with the vitality of life. The great thing about Bangarra is how the performance transcends just one medium. These compositions are pure visual art, with projection, light, and sound working together to create a sense of immersion: when you watch Bangarra perform, you are in the moment.
First up is Riley, Daniel McKinley Riley’s tribute to the late Michael Riley, an acclaimed photographer and relative to the choreographer. Michael Riley’s images serve as backdrop for the piece: feathers, broken wings, angel statues, locusts, and bibles all on a blue-cloud sky. Through stunning movement, the dance is inspired by these icons; the locust section is particularly effective with beauty in swarming movement.
Post-interval the much more intricate, earth-based Artefact begins. Frances Rings has created here a story about the everything that comes from the earth, and starts with a mesmerising birth or discovery with dancers wrapped and at first hidden in a possum-skin cloak.
The projections that underscore the floor work in Artefact– ethnographical detail studying the Indigenous human form in voice over and photographs of the body – hit a slight snag halfway through the night and the curtain is drawn for barely a moment for the technical difficulties to be rectified. It’s a little jarring to be taken out of the world on stage but it’s only a glitch and from there the work only gets more beautiful; women weave with string bags and rushes and men embody stone. It’s abstract, it’s only not ethereal because it’s so earthy, because it’s so grounded in the very foundation of the world around us.
Scored by composer David Page, who imbues the dance with a sense of wonder, of earth & sky takes us into the clouds and back down again, showing us the world through eyes we might forget to use: the ones that see the natural world, the one we came from, and the conflict that arises when we complicate it with culturally unnatural ideals.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are advised that of earth & sky contains images and voices of people who are deceased.