Of Earth and Sky

Sally D'Souza

BANGARRA DANCE THEATRE: Embarking on a spiritual journey towards the kind of cultural awakening only one could ever dream of, Bangarra Dance Theatre’s newly commissioned double bill, ‘of earth and sky’, presents groundbreaking dance works that map out a rite of passage for the audience to endeavour in their pursuits toward reaching the horizon to see the dawning of a brand new day.
Of Earth and Sky
Embarking on a spiritual journey towards the kind of cultural awakening only one could ever dream of, Bangarra Dance Theatre’s newly commissioned double bill, of earth and sky, presents groundbreaking dance works that map out a rite of passage for the audience to endeavour in their pursuits toward reaching the horizon to see the dawning of a brand new day. Marking the start of a new cycle as the company celebrates its 21st year (as one of Australia’s premier performing arts company), of earth and sky was commissioned by Bangarra’s Artistic Director, Stephen Page, to move the dance theatre company into a new era of narrative dance works of indigenous cultural stories that is bold, exciting and unprecedented. Featuring two parts: the choreographic works of 24 year old Canberra’s own Daniel Riley McKinley in his debut, RileyArtefact; the 100-minute performance showcased their talents as they personally reflect on the impact of relationships between cultures and their people, and that of objects and their meanings against the backdrops of different cultural contexts. Inspiring and thought-provoking as it were, the entire performance was interwoven with threads of cultural stories, embedded with the beads of dance movements and marred with colourings of cultural imageries and soundscapes in its efforts to resonate with the heartsongs and beliefs belonging to the heritage of the Wiradjuri people. In Riley, Daniel Riley McKinley (who shares a land-and-blood connection with the late Michael Riley) pays tribute to the renowned Aboriginal photographer and filmmaker by using his internationally acclaimed cloud series (his last photographic work prior to his passing) as the visual landscape to his dance piece. A collection of six images with objects, which have been digitally juxtaposed against the sky, symbolises Michael Riley’s artistic and life work in telling of the degradation of the Indigenous culture by the process of white colonisation. By using each of his images, McKinley draws on Michael Riley’s work to explore the themes of connectedness to home soil, the invasion of natural forces and the cycle of life, death and spiritual rebirth into seven sections: Boomerang, Locust, Bible (women), Angel, Bible (men), Broken Wing and Feather. Along with digital and experimental soundscapes from Bangarra’s composer, David Page, McKinley’s assembles a body of work that embodies his creative interpretations on the significance of each image, to include the oppressive influence of Christianity onto indigenous communities and the impact on their culture (in Bible); the impact and spiritual significance of the invasion of natural forces (in Locust); and, passing of Micheal Riley and the cultural meaning of the cycle of life, death and spiritual rebirth for McKinley (in Feather). But, by far the most enchanting of all was the awe-inspiring and divine movements of Waangenga Blanco and Leonard Mickelo as they carry each other shoulder high, like a statue of an angel coming to life. In Riley, what was made apparent was clear was that against the backdrop of colonisation, the individual performance styles and unique qualities of each dancer suffered. Divorced from their cultural settings, the dancers presented their individual interpretations of their “colonised” experience, and as such, there was no unity in the movements as a group. There were times the performances marked a sense of frustration for the viewer simply because against such a backdrop, unity in these movements is required, if not expected. But in Artefact, which draws on Frances Rings’ interpretations on the paradigm of history-making and its relationships between object and man against (the backdrops of) different cultural settings; she inspires life (or creative force) back to the relics (often housed in cultural institutions like museums) when she tries to reclaims the spirit of these artefacts through her creative interpretations assembled into six captivating sections: Museum, String Bags Grinding Stone, Bodies, Coolamun and Weaving. In her own words, she claims: “I'm creating a dance inspired by indigenous artefacts and the relationship people have to those objects. Objects special to indigenous people are simple, but hold great spiritual meaning and connection. The challenge is to bring these static objects to life. To make them move. They're like a little dose of spirituality sitting on your shelf”. Rings’ work was mesmerising. From the very beginning (in Museum) when Daniel Riley McKinley and Travis de Vries wrapped themselves against each other to capture the spirit that had once embodied a magnificent possum coat, which is now an exhibit in a museum; to the anthropological accounts of the Indigenous bodies that sought to link scientific theories with the belief that indigenous people belong to the animal world (in Bodies); to epitomising the spiritual meaning of the weaving processes for Indigenous women with the stunning arrays of bodies cascading onto each other against the pandanas strips (in Weaving) – which, by the way, was parallel to the feeling of watching rain droplets on the window pane basking in the sunshine after a heavy summer rain – was superb. It was spell-bounding, visually captivating, enthralling and the sections flowed effortlessly from the beginning to the end. What is also worth mentioning is that in contrast to the struggling performances of dancers when they attempt to congeal their movements as a group in Riley, here the dancers twinkled in all its glory (with their individual performance styles and unique qualities) when their movements were set against the backdrop of their own cultural background, and hence, articulated a very bold message about the relationships between cultures and their people. All in all, it was a remarkable performance which proves to show why Bangarra is regarded as one of best performing arts company in the country. BANGARRA DANCE THEATRE PRESENTS Of Earth and Sky A Double Bill Riley choreographed by Daniel Riley McKinley Artefact choreographed by Frances Rings Venue: Canberra Theatre, London Circuit, Canberra City Dates: 3-4 September 2010 Tickets: $50 - $25 Bookings: 02 6275 2700 OR ONLINE Artistic Director: Stephen Page Choreographers: Frances Rings; Daniel Riley McKinley Cultural Advisors: Kathy Marika; Michael Riley Foundation Composer: David Page Set Designer: Jacob Nash Costume Designer: Gabriela Tylesova Lighting Designer: Damien Cooper Artefact AV Designer: Declan McMonagle Rehearsal Director: Catherine Goss Dancers: Sidney Saltner, Elma Kris, Patrick Thaiday, Yolande Brown, Jhuny-boy Borja, Deborah Brown, Waangenga Blanco, Tara Gower, Leonard Mickelo, Jasmin Shepherd, Daniel Riley McKinley, Katina Olsen, Perun Bonser, Ella Halvalka, Travis De Vries ALSO AT: ADELAIDE - Adelaide Festival Centre 8-11 September 2010 WOLLONGONG - Illawarra Performing Arts Centre 16-18 September 2010 MELBOURNE - The Arts Centre 24 September - 2 October 2010
What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Sally D'Souza is a creative arts & media consultant based in Canberra who has advised, facilitated, and assisted in creative arts events and multi-media projects and productions from independent artists, companies to government bodies in Sydney, Canberra and in Melbourne since 2001. Over the years, she has curated exhibitions, edited publications, and managed performances, launches, events and festivals. She has also produced television and audio productions, short films, commercials, music albums as well as working in new media, which includes interactive creative story and digital art storytelling. She holds a Masters in Creative Writing and Graduate Diploma in Community Cultural Development. She has worked as a Curator for Artary Project Space, Senior Writer/Producer at WIN Television, Sub-editor for Multicultural Arts Victoria and Arts Writer for the Canberra Times. She is the winner of the 2005 ACT Pitching Competition and the Finalist to the National 2005 SPAA Fringe, Film City Inc., Pitching Competition, in which the rights of her winning story, Moments with Grace, was bought for the production of a feature film. Sally is passionate about community-based and cross-cultural creative performances that challenges and inspires its audience.