Bangarra Dance Theatre is an example of leadership, pride and service – and this is a message and an action based programme that is delivered and performed through the arts. By offering to Australian audiences, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, works of dance theatre that engage with some of the most fundamental and vital relationships that Indigenous Australians share with this country, Bangarra are constantly re-shaping the landscape of contemporary performance.
The latest production from the company is aptly titledTerrain. In a year that resonates with anniversaries including 50 years since the right to vote was given to Indigenous Australians, 40 years since the Tent embassy was established and 20 years since Native Title was recognized – this is a year to celebrate the ongoing relationship of Indigenous peoples to the land.
For choreographer Frances Rings, Terrain is her sixth production with the company and her first full length work. With a week until the premiere she is looking forward to seeing the work on stage. “This is a creative piece informed by the relationships Indigenous people have with our country,” explains Rings, “The land is the central focus and how we as custodians have a responsibility to take care of the land.” With this work in development for nearly a year, Rings along with composer David Page and set Designer Jacob Nash have all spent time at Lake Eyre with Arabunna Elder Uncle Reg Dodd.
“Here we were witnesses to thousands of years of evolution” says Rings, “This site was once a rainforest and at the height of summer this is an arid desert. The past lives are etched into the surface – when we walked and picked up sea shells we knew, this is just one example of our living history.”
Terrain is more than simply an acknowledgment of the importance of land; it is an aesthetic work that is propelled by the need for awareness that the resources of the earth are not simply mineral, but also deeply spiritual and it is this particular perspective that is highlighted by Rings.“There has never been a point in history when we have said this is not our land. We have shared it with non-Indigenous people but it is crucial that we look after our country in a manner that is both fitting and respectful,” says Rings.
Terrain could also be seen as a salutation to nature’s transformative power. From drought to deluge, the magical changes that take place as nature actively shapes the landscape is reflected in Rings’ deep commitment to creating a work that honours the strength of the country, despite the changes that have been wrought, especially those of the last 200 years.“The spirit of this country is still strong. She is recovering after the onslaught of much turmoil but she is resilient and the land is regenerating,” says Rings, “Even if our language has been taken away, even if our people have passed on; the land continues to sustain us, to offer a link to our history and to our past – and this is a relationship that can never be severed as long as the stories continue to be told.”