Bangarra’s new work, Yuldea, comes to Melbourne nearing the end of its national tour. The 17 dancers are deeply connected to the work and sustain a continuous, unrelenting intensity of performance for the entire 60 minutes.
Choreographed by Frances Rings (who is the new artistic director of the company and long term Bangarra dancer/choreographer) and set in four acts, Yuldea is both beautiful and confronting, beginning with the cosmos, evoking land and water, depicting colonisation/development of sacred sites and still ending with hope.
All the dancers commit to the extensive material with unwavering physicality. Most of the ensemble is new – having been in the company only one to three years – and with that comes a fearless attack of the abundant and athletic choreographic material. Most of the long-standing Bangarra members have now retired. This new blood brings a different, ferocious energy to proceedings.
Sometimes the choreography wanders, but stays engaging for its sheer intensity and abundance of tousling bodies – spinning, jumping, moving in and out of the floor.
When it’s really focused – in tight duets, or specific male and female groupings (the women as birds; the males as dingoes) – the storytelling power of dance is alight. There are so many gems within the busy whole.
Yuldea starts with the large concept of supernova and dancers ricocheting through spiraling frenzied movements, creating a vortex that they buffet themselves into and out of. From this celestial opening, it hones into land and people, specifically the Agangu and Nunga, based in the Far West region of South Australia (where Rings is from). The country’s natural animal habitats and the desert soak water source (Yuldea Kapi Piti) become alive through dance and the textures of Jennifer Irwin’s sculptural costumes.
The arrival of settlers changed the landscape, especially with the building of the trans-Australian railway in the early 1900s and then atomic testing, both of which adversely affected land and water. Yuldea depicts this through black and industrial-inspired costumes, bungee cord routines that fling and retract the dancers so that they skim the stage as they fly forward and then repel back into the set. In a quieter moment, falling black debris coats the bare torso of a fetal Rikki Mason. The dancing here has a harsh, angular quality, different to the more fluid depictions of nature.
Hanging black ropes hug the stage in a half circle while a white arc suspends parallel to the ceiling. Elizabeth Gadsby’s set is simple and effective for how much it moves with the dancers. The arc rotates upright at the end, like a gateway or portal for the dancers to cross through, creating a finale suggesting possibility and continuation.
Punctuated with a few quieter duets (special mention to Lilian Banks and Callum Goolagong in the water themed Kapi Spirit), Yuldea busily balances destruction and optimism.
While all the acts are different, there’s a continuous, sometimes monotonal pulse throughout the work's duration, buoyed by the electronic score, accented with natural and mechanical sounds (by Leon Rodgers and Electric Fields).
There's barely a chance for the dancers to draw breath within the continuous content – physical, literal and figurative, yet they beautifully sustain the more contemplative and dark moments as well as the unbridled energy. Yuldea's visual design (including Karen Norris's lighting) frames the ever-moving humans with a cohesion of simple and effective aesthetics.
Choreography Frances Rings
Venue: Playhouse | Arts Centre, Melbourne VIC
Dates: 27 September – 7 October 2023