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Expression connection

A still from Bangarra Dance Theatre’s ‘Spirit 2018’: Bangarra Dark Emu

A still from Bangarra Dance Theatre’s ‘Spirit 2018’: Bangarra Dark Emu   | Photo Credit: Daniel Boud

Philippe Magid, Executive Director, Bangarra Dance Theatre, says audiences who watch Spirit 2018 will leave with a better understanding of the first people, their culture, and Australia

What happens when more than 65,000 years of indigenous culture comes together in one celebration? ‘Spirit 2018’ will show you.

Bangarra Dance Theatre, known for their work over the last three decades on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, will showcase key stories represented over the years, through contemporary dance, immersive soundscapes, music, and design in Spirit 2018.

“We turn 30 next year. This programme is a selection of nine works that showcase the most contrasting works the company has done. We have 37 works in history, this is a way to reintroduce the company to India. There is everything from political to social works, narrative works, and works that deal more with Aboriginal creation stories,” says Bangarra’s Executive Director Philippe Magid.

Philippe emphasises that this is a contemporary dance performance, and not theatre with language or opera with songs. “Dance transcends language; people can really experience the incredible beauty and the strength of the work, the music, for instance, utilises indigenous language. We have costumes that evoke different spaces and animal shapes. The choreography conveys the story through movement, though it allows audiences to take what they like. The performance won’t be literal all the time. Not everyone will take the same experience from it, they will leave having understood the first people, their culture and Australia as well.” The dance technique that the performance employs, points out Philippe, is unique to Bangarra. “We incorporate some traditional forms, such as ballet, and imbue some traditional aboriginal movement. Each work will have different elements, but our work is more grounded than ballet, which is more in the air. Our work is much more rooted in the land.”

The soundscapes, he adds, are deeply immersive, reflecting the millennia-old culture. “All our soundscapes and compositions are created specifically for the work, to evoke scenes like the night sky, the open plains, or rain. They include the indigenous languages, and so we often have senior cultural songmen and women singing and telling their stories. It is an important part of storytelling.”

The works, he says, are created in collaboration with the indigenous communities across the country, addressing issues such as the challenging environments that an urban aboriginal man faces. “Another story, of creation, deals with a moth. Aboriginal culture in Australia is sometimes perceived as primitive and simple, when it is actually very much the opposite. It is quite sophisticated, considerate and caring, when it comes to culture, land, and people,” he points out. “Over 65,000 years, these people have had strong connections to the land, they have been able to care for and to nurture the land, through their farming practices and their land management. Their awareness of the environment is incredibly strong.”

The process of storytelling, for Bangarra, starts with conversations, residencies, cultural exchange with cultural leaders where they share their traditional songs, and stories.

“They give us the permission to take the stories back to our studios, we then conduct workshops, collaborate with the creative team and develop these stories into narrative or abstract dance works. Then all the elements come together and we perform the work in capital cities across Australia, overseas, and in smaller cities in the country,” he says.

“The most important part of this life cycle is that we return the works to the places where they were given to us, by giving them the experience of the work. Our works then go back to the country that allowed them to exist.”

Through this life cycle, Bangarra and their team ensure that they maintain strong relationships with the community that shares their stories with them, points out Philippe.

“In doing so, we are making them feel comfortable in trusting their cultural knowledge with us. There is diversity in the stories we are portraying, by addressing a range of issues from life cycles to contact from colonizations, history; we make sure the whole country is represented.”

As part of their India tour, Bangarra also travelled to Purulia, home of the Chhau mask dance; Bhopal, the site of the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya (National Museum of Humankind); and Aizawl in Northeast India, to collaborate with the local communities. They have also collaborated with the Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts to share the indigenous dance forms — Cultural Brolga Dance and Torres Strait Island Dance.

Bangarra’s Spirit 2018, supported, by Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts, will be performed on October 29 at 7.30 pm at Dr BR Ambedkar Bhavana on Miller’s Road, Vasanth Nagar. Tickets are available on BookMyShow.

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 7:41:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/dance/expression-connection/article25321930.ece

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