Photo – Daniel Boud

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following article contains the name of someone who has passedThe family of Ningali Lawford-Wolf has given the media permission to use her name.

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s now familiar style seamlessly blends indigenous dance styles with contemporary elements. After a three-year absence, the company finally returns to Melbourne with new work SandSong, inspired by the Kimberley and the Great Sandy Desert.

Bangarra’s works are rooted in tradition and inspirations from country and it’s not unusual for the men and women to have different roles, as culture dictates.  

Such is the case with SandSong – the women’s bush onion dance gives way to men’s ritual and eventually the uprooting of indigenous people to labour on pastoral (farming) stations – expressed through short video, aural samples and vignettes, including the image of a shackled man.

It is only in finale that the sexes come together in an organic and uplifting celebration of kinship.  

As is Bangarra’s skill, the telling is not preachy, rather organic and intertwined, especially through Steve Francis’s musical score that mixes pop and electronic sounds with historical footage and recordings from a range of indigenous elders and leaders, including Ningali Josephine Lawford-Wolf who collaborated closely with choreographers Stephen Page and Frances Rings.

Divided by the seasons (cold dry, hot dry, wet), SandSong is a continuous 80 minutes of ensemble-heavy work that sometimes highlights very specific dances and other times falls into large group patterns and floor bound, curvaceous choreography.  

Tonally, the work stays in the same lulling dynamic for long stretches of time, taking away from the punch of some sections. Other times, the intention and dance are a sharp blend, like when aerial rope choreography represents the buffering and battering winds of a cyclone.

Post-COVID, the company members have changed. The next generation of fierce, young and amazing dancers have come full-force up the ranks. But Bangarra has always championed tradition and legacy, so even though the dancers are mostly all new, the spirit of the company remains.

Jacob Nash (set), Jennifer Irwin (costumes) and Nick Schlieper (lighting) have very long histories designing for the company and creating the Bangarra signature style. The trio are on the bill here.

SandSong is a swan song, of sorts. After three decades, Page is handing Bangarra’s artistic directorship into Rings’ extremely capable hands.

The choreographic collaboration of SandSong signifies both an end and a beginning.

Event details

Bangarra Dance Theatre presents
Stories from the Great Sandy Desert

Choreographers Stephen Page and Frances Rings

Venue: Playhouse Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne VIC
Dates: 25 August – 3 September 2022


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