Art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed; Australia’s Indigenous Contemporary Dance Company, Bangarra, does this, with precision.
Leading Indigenous arts company, Bangarra Dance Theatre, embodies stories of 40,000 years of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. Through modern and traditional movement, visuals and sound, Bangarra fosters, celebrates and educates audiences on Indigenous culture. The twenty-eight-year-old company explores the face of Indigenous culture with innovative and distinctive style. The raw repertoire is a sobering experience that leaves audiences with an authentic piece of Australian art.
In 1995, the Australian arts world bathed in a period of innovation and creative change as social justice and reconciliation dominated the political scene. The Native Title Act of 1993 was a key step forward in reconciliation, understanding and respect for Indigenous culture. This was followed by a report by the council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in 1995, which made 78 recommendations setting out a broad agenda for achieving social justice for Aboriginal people.
Bangarra, founded in 1989, gave voice to the social and political issues of Indigenous Australia. ‘Ochres’ was the first major production taking stage in 1995, in the heat of the Native Title debate. This production sought to explain land rights as a deeply cultural and spiritual issue (rather than as an issue of property – a white man’s perspective) highlighting the intense interconnectedness of Indigenous people with land.
More than twenty years later, ‘Blak’ in 2013 tells the story about the collision of two worlds. In keeping with the political and social discussion in Australia, the creation explores the harsh realities of the urban environment on indigenous life. The performance draws out issues of domestic violence, suicide and personal identity. Again, this production comes at a time when indigenous populations are increasingly on the urban fringe with disturbingly high numbers abusing alcohol, drugs and their families.
Bangarra effectively gives voice to current social and political issues that speak to all, redefining what it means to be a contemporary Indigenous Australian. Bangarra exemplifies what so many artists seek to achieve – influence. Company Director, Stephen Page, blends a disturbing history, cultural narratives and brings black perspective to the main stage.
Successfully, and persistently, pushing the boundaries in contemporary dance, Bangarra, through impressionable series of works, shine resilience, strength and empowerment. As the only professional Indigenous contemporary dance company in Australia, the bundle of choreographic techniques utilized, is a rare organic expression. Its style reflects studies in classical ballet, modern dance, yoga and traditional Indigenous dance sequences all woven through, to create a blended approach that remains faithful to traditional Indigenous ethnicity.
Authenticity is priority and consequently 70% of the company’s full time workers are from Indigenous descent.
Bangarra strives to ensure Indigenous stories, songs and dances are preserved. To ensure the authenticity of the artistic information, the company spends time each year in specific Indigenous communities, meeting with elders, living on the land and sharing with the people of that community. It is through these exchanges that inspiration is grasped, making sure that the stories they tell are true to the traditional owners and uphold the integrity of the stories’ meaning. Authenticity is priority and consequently 70% of the company’s full time workers are from Indigenous descent.
Bangarra’s style is visceral and from the gut. The movements are grounded and fluid. Dancers exercise earthly, animalistic movements encompassing sharp shapes, explosive gestures, turned-in positions and flexed feet. The dancers surrender their emotions to dance. The passion reflects through the stares the dancers hold, and the strength that radiates through every motion. Sound, props and light compliments Bangarra’s distinctive feel. Ochres’ (traditional body paint) is used for most performances. The accompaniment of leaves, trees and traditional inspired props delivers a very bare but deeply affective setting, and makes for breathtaking moments when integrated into the choreography. Even when dancers are motionless the asymmetrical lines, sculptural fluidity and polished shapes leave you overcome.
The Bangarra Dance Theatre is a unique dance company that has grown and evolved with society. The company has successfully created a voice for Indigenous Australians, an intimate educational medium for white Australia, conversation and education between Indigenous communities and innovative contemporary dance merged with traditional art forms. It continues to deliver sublime dance technique along with edgy social messages.
Bangarra Dance Theatre presents Bennelong in June 2017.