The Bangarra Dance Theatre is a celebrated Aboriginal dance group. Their evening-length work, Terrain, is inspired Lake Eyre in South Australia and the Arabunna (or Arabana) tribe. Split into nine distinct sections, the piece explores the relationship between Aboriginal people and the land they inhabit. Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Terrain premiered in 2012 and snagged two national Helpmann Awards in 2016: one for ‘Best Ballet or Dance Work’, another for ‘Best Choreography in a Dance or Physical Theatre Work.’
Sydney Opera House shared a 2012 recording of Bangarra dance company’s Terrain, choreographed by Frances Rings, as part of their Digital Season. It will remain available until 11 June, 2020.
“[O]ur dance technique is forged from over 65,000 years of culture, embodied with contemporary movement.”– Bangarra Dance Theatre
Bangarra Terrain Review
A contemporary representation of lightning and thunder begin the show. (Retrospectively, I realize that this forecasts the abstraction of nature elements throughout.) But even these oblique hints of nature temporarily recede when we meet a quintet in a plain black space. Four men with white paint on their face pass a women into various lifts, and when they set her down, their limbs wind around her – like tangled roots or twisted branches.
Another group emerges. They tread carefully with bent knees, hidden behind oblong shields. The athletic men duck in and out of formation, moving the shield to consistently act a a barrier between them and the audience. Individuals break out into solos that mix modern dance and street dance, but they eventually unite and combine their shields to collectively protect their group.
The theme of land returns when a woman makes her way downstage to a narrow shaft of light. Here, she opens her cupped hands and pours out white powder, letting it slip through her fingers like sand. The woman is both touching and in touch with the earth – and the next section conjures more nature-inspired imagery.
Women in scraggly grass headdresses and long silvery skirts move with birdlike curiosity in front of a softly lit background with defined veins like marble. Their heads sharply cock in different directions and their hips jut out to the side, as if dancing a mellow cumbia; but the choreography sometimes takes a more lyrical tone, too. They fold and uncross their legs, while they spiral on the ground, and développé and rond de jambe into high kicks from standing.
A relentless pulse pushes through the bleak ‘scar’ section, which personifies man’s destruction of the environment. The black figure on the background could be an oil spoil with its concentric rings – or a burnt tree trunk amidst the dark sienna splotches. Downstage, the cast moves brusquely and ritualistically, as if subconsciously propelled by established norms.
Terrain counteracts ‘scar’ with its final segment about flooding. The shimmery costumes may be reminiscent of gemstones, like amethyst and beryl, but the movement is all liquid. The individuals swirl and fouette, constantly changing direction, and eventually exit. Four women meet in center stage, at the border of a spotlight. They breeze off and the light fades, but the land – it remains.
“Bangarra’s relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are the foundation blocks of the organisation – spending time [together] is a way of reconnecting with and giving back to the communities who inspire Bangarra’s works.”– Bangarra Dance Theate, Terrain press release
Meticulous research went into both the the choreography (Frances Rings) and set design (Jacob Nash) of Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Terrain. The strong cast of dancers show off a variety of movement qualities throughout the hour-long work, which matches David Page’s multi-textured soundscore. The production is pretty, but you probably won’t feel a strong connection to the concepts that informed the work unless you perform your own research into Rings’ creative process.
Which tour – or showing – of Bangarra’s Terrain did you see? If you missed it, what other digital streaming or on demand dance shows have you been watching? Keep us updated in the comments below.