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Bangarra Dance Theatre - 'Bush'

by Preeti Vasudevan

October 19, 2004 -- Brooklyn Academy of Music

Storytelling is the language of the heart. It is the sum total of all humanity passing through a person who becomes the medium of timelessness connection with our very existence. When stories are linked with nature, native cultures express the celebration of life, both old and new through their knowledge of preservation and continuity of life together.

The unfortunate dichotomy of living in our modern lives, divorced from a deep rooted connectivity with nature, was highlighted by a powerful performance by Bangarra Dance Theatre, Australia ’s leading indigenous dance theatre company. The opening night at BAM’s Harvey Theater resounded with applauses commending the company for its contribution in the avenue of melding traditions with contemporary approaches in the arts.

Visual delight through lighting and scenic changes allowed a seamless time travel orchestrated by the ancient Aboriginal caretaker, a role played by the famous Kathy Balngayngu Marika. Stylized facial expressions with mimetic body language made the evening more a narrative feast than merely a pure movement experience. Imbibing the language of the old storytellers, Stephen Page, the artistic director of Bangarra, has developed a unique company that blends traditional body vocabulary with contemporary thought. My mind working with both western and eastern sensibilities found, on one hand, moments and expressions from the production seemingly a familiar and anticipated non-narrative modern technique. On the other hand, from an eastern sensibility, I found myself interpreting their intricate and detailed gestural vocabulary through the eyes, fingers, and symbolism that enveloped the piece. The synthesis of the two formed a unique world of mythical fables and a direct experience of nature around us, both symbolic and physical.

However, outside of the structural beauty and mythical journey offered on stage, I found the deep spirit of the land missing. What happens when a story is intimately yours, when the land where you experience something so close to your heart is missing? Performing in a neutral abstract space removes the energy of the very nature you invoke. For Bangarra Dance Theatre in the Harvey Theater, the magic of theatricality remained cosmetic, failing to reach its depths for the human soul or its eagerness to communicate concern for vanishing beauty. It was not for lack of choreographic talent or narrative style, but in its transposition from one country to another, it seemed as if the land got left behind and instead only an exotic show arrived. People marveled at unknown symbols and stylistic narratives rather than intimately connecting with the soul of the story. The question at this point remains on the importance and role of symbolism in modern lives. Where, traditionally, each aspect of nature was personified and transformed into a code, a rule or ancient grammar, ancient storytellers speaking from the vastness of their cultural lands, what is its utilitarian transference in today’s world? If Bangarra had performed in an outdoor setting with its existing design, the transformation could have been consummate. Experiencing nature while listening and viewing the stories is crucial to understanding a direct role of such performance. Unfortunately, the temperature-controlled room of an urban theatre abstracts far too much leaving only a spectacle to relish, for the time perceived.

Edited by Holly Messitt

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