09 November 2009

Review: Fire: a retrospective

Fire: a retrospective
Bangarrra Dance Theatre
6 November 2009
The Arts Centre, Playhouse



Hands up if you can name Australia’s internationally revered national contemporary dance company. How Aussie that, after 20 years of consistent achievement, Bangarra Dance Theatre isn’t always given the respect, the support and the adoration it deserves at home.

Not that the audience at Fire didn’t adore. Far from it. Being in that cheering audience was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve had in a theatre. It’s humbling to be with a crowd who are thanking the creators and performers for telling stories that all members of the diverse audience understood felt were theirs.

I like dance, but it’s like a foreign language and I’m often left admiring the pretty and the skill as I wonder what they are trying to say to me. But I totally get Bangarra. I watch this company perform and I know what they are saying to me. It might not be what they created it to say, but that doesn’t matter. Bangarra tell their stories by expressing the emotions of moments. We fill in the rest.

Under the artistic directorship of Stephen Page, Bangarra’s merge of traditional and contemporary is fluid and natural. There is no straight line in nature, no unison or perfect repetition. Random patterns are why it’s so hard to make anything artificial look natural. Bangarra’s choreographic style is precise, but there’s never unnatural unison. The slight differences between each dancer’s performance creates a stage that seems more natural and more in tune with how we are.

Bangarra’s originality flows from welcoming ancient white ochre ritual and encompassing Torres Straight Island celebration through to the a gorgeous use of elastic to create a stage full of cat’s cradle like song lines and the most awesome and sexy use of a slip ‘n’ slide. But the moments that remind us that our Indigenous culture is more than gum leaves and roo dancing are the most powerful.

Four men in jeans dance to a spoken Lord’s prayer and the voices of those who need to be heard in a piece about alchoholism, violence and abuse, and there’s a room silencing moment when a scratching, screaming woman finds relief in the horror of drugs. It’s not only in the arts that Australians suffer and are ignored for ‘cultural’ reasons.

At a time when far too much media and dinner party conversation was spent justifying the Aussie joke of black face and John Safran’s Race Relations is creating a mighty hoo ha on the telly, it’s a perfect time to go to the theatre to be part of a history, a vision and a contemporary dreaming that we are all part of.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

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