Dance is the poetry of movement; a visual language that communes with your senses to tell a story. Bangarra are a group of stunning dancers and world-class performers, effortlessly evoking the elements through their bodies and taking a willing audience along for the ride. If you, like I had been, have not yet seen this exciting Australian troupe, you will not regret buying a ticket. Terrain, their latest work by Choreographer Frances Rings, is now in Brisbane as part of a national tour.
Described simply as a hymn to country, Terrain begins with lightening flashes on an empty stage, transporting us all to Kati Thanda (Lake Eyre). The essence of centuries of indigenous connectivity to the land is distilled in these first moments and it is really exciting to realise that you can also feel it; feel the fresh air, smell the earth rising up from the theatre floor beneath you, and feel the spirits gathering around you. Terrain is told in nine distinct stanzas: Red Brick – looking beyond the urban landscape to hear an ancestral Calling to Country; Shields – a brilliantly executed reflection on the struggle for Land Rights, danced by the Men’s Ensemble, with shields that represent both tribal war shields and police riot shields; Reborn – where land, knowledge and customs are passed down through the lineage; Spinifex – inspired by the trees around Lake Eyre that resemble the gathering of spirit women waiting, delightfully summonsed by the women’s ensemble; Salt – beyond the salt lies an abstract landscape that resonates with an ancient power; Scar – the impact of man’s actions disrupt the delicate balance between people and environment; Landform – through each evolution, the land regenerates and heals, awakening the cultural ties that connect people to place; Reflect – traversing the horizon to glimpse the sacred realm where earth and sky meet; Deluge – the soothing finale as waters begin the journey toward Lake Eyre.
Simple yet effective backdrops resemble aboriginal geographical map-like paintings, a kaleidoscope that changes with each scene, however the stage remains bare open space, vast beyond the walls that contain it – the performers skilfully writhe and glide between the elements performing acrobatic movements as if it were as easy as walking. It is not often that you see a troupe of dancers who truly move as one, these liquid performers were at times connected by an invisible force as they intoned the flow of water or the forces of nature with the movement of their one body. A wonderful soundscape by David Page supports – a blend of earthly rumblings, voice, flies humming and other familiars and the steely strum of strings to set the all-encompassing mood while Jennifer Irwin’s costume design inspires the imagination. Old and new were blended; the traditional touches of aboriginal culture you expect form only the basis of an evolving craft that draws on classical and modern dance and movement while keeping its spirit intact.
The audience felt like one community awed by the fantastic tales brought to us by another. Terrain is a breathtaking second hand witnessing of the cyclic transformation of Kali Thanda. Anyone who fears performances based solely on dance and worried that they won’t understand it, this show is an exception, and free program outlays all you need to know to really enjoy it. Go and see Terrain and be and you will experience this work with wide-eyes like child transfixed.