Dance is so ephemeral; we felt we owed it to acknowledge 30 years of dance and more than 200 alumni “ dancers, designers, musicians, etc, and, above all, the cultural custodians who gave us the stories.
Steven Page “ who’s been with Bangarra as director and choreographer almost all of those creative years – was explaining the origins of the exhibition at Carriageworks and, more permanently, the website that brings together all this archival material. Long-term Bangarra designer, Jake Nash immodestly added that Carriageworks is less an exhibition, more an immersive experience, and certainly, you enter through a darkened, fire-lit tunnel to a huge darkened performance space “ it’s gleaming floor reflecting three massive stage elements that turn out to be much larger and more dramatic than their original appearances st the back of a distant stage in the Opera House.
The magical smoking sacred ring from ‘Bennelong‘, the giant swinging Women’s Business stick nest from ‘Skin‘ and the aggressively red numbers 1788, also from ‘Bennelong‘. There are also fabulous slow lotion photos of the minutiae of dance movement on a big screen. And the whole picture is set in place by that shining floor, which just cries out to be danced on.
Beyond the drama of that room, you get down to the nitty-gritty in a room beyond which is dominated by the huge, 3D set wall capturing the essence of Country, while it also displays a selection of long-time costumier, Jennifer Irwin’s outfits, born on Country. There’s a sound room where the even more essential team-member, the late David Page’s music is played. And here, bear in mind brother Stephen’s remarkable assessment that while his dance was abstract, David’s music was at the heart of it all, for it gave us the story.
Often that music is based around the basso tones of Djakapurra Munyarryun “ the perpetual Yolngu songman and cultural adviser from eastern Arnhemland, whose mastery of ceremonial pitch places him well ahead of the much more famous Dr G in my mind. And those tones rumble around the exhibition.
A rural hut with video playing inside it shows just how often Bangarra left the urbanity of Sydney to get down and dirty on Country “ learning from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities they visited, and then returning with the newly minted dance that incorporated their stories respectfully.
Finally, projected on to the base of an upturned Torana “ such a symbol of the Aussie bush “ Bangarra’s socially-conscious film, ‘Spear‘ is projected “ with not total clarity!
Much of the archival material for the website and exhibition has been collated by Yolande Brown, who did 16 years with the company as a dancer before ‘retiring’ to have a baby. Somehow, she was identified as the person to give the company that claims 30 years of sixty-five thousand in its past a timeless digital future. She’s happy that some of the complexity of being Australia’s only major Indigenous performing arts company and conforming to its peoples’ protocols at the same time as entertaining an audience is put on the record.
Meanwhile, the ever-optimistic Stephen Page declares, We’ve only just scratched the surface of that 65,000 years!.