Bangarra Dance Theatre infuses their work with 65,000 years of history and culture

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Spirit | Bangarra Dance Theatre | DanceHouse in partnership with Dancers of Damelahamid | Vancouver Playhouse | October 25 – 26, 2019

This selection of works from Bangarra Dance Theatre’s 30-year repertoire included nine pieces full of rich meaning and moving stories. The Australian company’s work celebrates the cultural heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as they turn ritual and ceremony into beautiful, symbolic scenes.

A character who resembles some sort of shaman presides over the show as the first performer on stage who returns at the end while the company evokes a sense of reverence and hope.

Much of the choreography by Stephen Page, Bernadette Walong-Sene, and Djakapurra Munyarryun is grounded with bended knees and weighty stamping. In one scene, the dancers resembled birds, mimicking their gestures and movements while moving as a flock and morphing into new formations. In another section, the dancers wear a red stripe down their foreheads, evoking a warrior spirit.

Text projected onto the back explains that these dances are infused with 65,000 years of history and culture, and that they cleanse and heal. Bangarra means “to make fire” and the dancers certainly move with fiery spirits in honour of all of this history that they represent.

In all of the nine pieces, there was a clear connection to the land and the history and culture of Australia’s aboriginal peoples. While there was no explicit narrative in any of the pieces, there were always strong symbols and evident themes that ran throughout and evolved to create a satisfying dramatic arc. Props such as burning sticks and body powder enhanced the earthy aesthetic, as did the costumes by Jennifer Irwin.  

A beautiful contemporary duet featured many smooth lifts and an intuitive relationship between the two dancers. There were a couple of pieces that seemed to be inspired by more contemporary choreographic styles; traditional movements with a modern inflection. The result felt like a natural progression of Bangarra’s captivating style.

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