Above – Amberlilly Gordon, Lillian Banks, Bradley Smith and ensemble. Cover – Emily Flannery, Jye Uren, Chantelle Lee Lockhart. Photos – Daniel Boud.

Bangarra’s new work, currently playing at the Sydney Opera House’s Drama Theatre, is a collaboration with the New Zealand Dance Company. Superbly performed by the ensemble, this collaboration is unlike any of Bangarra’s previous works and introduces Australian audiences to an entirely new physical vocabulary that is both powerful and lyrical.

Moreover, it presents a different and probably less familiar set of Indigenous stories and cultural themes, offering fresh perspectives from the rich Māori culture.

Horizon is divided into two sections devised by three choreographers. However, both sections are united by common themes of the significance of place and stories to Indigenous peoples. The first short but impactful section, Kulka, is choreographed by Bangarra alumnus, Sani Townson.

Townson is aided by the brilliant work of Set Designer, Emma Gadsby and Lighting Designer, Karen Norris, who establish the striking visual imagery that is one of the distinctive hallmarks of the entire production.

Norris’s lighting and Gadsby’s set create a mirror effect on both the floor and backdrop, giving the illusion of dancers working on water. It also provides a striking aerial perspective of the dancers. At one point the aerial view ingeniously shows the dancers inhabiting the form of a giant crocodile.

In another scene, a large portrait of an elder is projected onto the backdrop, towering over the dancers in a way that signifies the connection between ancient cultural ancestry and the contemporary.

With its sharp rhythms and powerful, muscular choreography, the second section, The Light Inside is utterly compelling. It is a highly ambitious work, filled with references to Tiwi and Māori mythology. The Light Inside marks a significant shift in tone and imagery, capturing the stories of these two indigenous cultures. It comprises multiple pieces, each recounting a different story of connection with the land, water, sky and folk lore.

The Light Inside, is divided into two parts. The first, Salt Water, is choreographed by another Bangarra alumnus, Deborah Brown, and is dedicated to her mother and the culture of the Tiwi Islands. The second part, Fresh Water, is choreographed by the Artistic Director of the New Zealand Dance Company and Cultural Advisor to The Light Inside, Moss Te Ururangi Patterson.

Norris and Gadsby again collaborate in the second section to create settings that make use of an ingenious crinkled dark plastic backdrop. This is progressively raised and pulled into different shapes to represent different seascapes and landscapes rendered by an interplay of light and fog.

In one piece, Sacred Hair, the dancers hold their long hair over their heads. It references an ancient myth about how power and strength are passed down by the Feminine Divinity. It would be difficult to appreciate this meaning without reading the programme notes – not that it necessarily matters as the work stands by itself. But understanding the narrative behind each piece not only expands our comprehension of Māori culture but also enhances our perception of the work.

To fully appreciate the cultural richness of each of the pieces, I recommend you spend some time before the show with your programme – available online or free from the ushers – to acquaint yourselves with the different stories. While the dance pieces are still enthralling and dramatic without a full understanding, familiarity with the narratives adds a spiritual dimension to the intentions and gestures of the dancers and makes the production truly memorable.

Event details

Bangarra Dance Theatre presents
Horizon

Choreography
The Light Inside – Deborah Brown and Moss Te Ururangi Patterson with Bangarra Dance Theatre Dancers
Kulka – Sani Townson with Bangarra Dance Theatre Dancers

Venue: Sydney Opera House, Sydney NSW
Dates: 11 June - 13 July 2024
Bookings: www.bangarra.com.au

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