Dance review: Terrain

This award-winning show about the convergence of body, land and spirit returns for its tenth year anniversary.

Bangarra’s national tour commemorates the tenth anniversary of Frances Rings’ award-winning Terrain. This dance production is a loving tribute to the Kati Thunda landscape. Rings’ insightful, timeless choreography explores the Arabunna people’s deep connection to the vast salt basin of Lake Eyre.

Dancers stream onto the stage, the style is unique and eloquent, the startling moves original, inspired by Aboriginal and Torres Strait cultures. The audience is soon swept away to an alternative spiritual and environmental domain.

In nine thematically linked movements, each sequence represents another variation of Rings’ artistic focus. For instance ‘Scar’ interrogates the impact of human actions while ‘Deluge’ charts the regenerative powers of rain. And yet, Terrain achieves a remarkable cohesion, partly because there isn’t a celebration of individual stars. Instead, there are partnerships; duos, trios and dance clusters because the direction stresses collaboration.

Complementing Jacob Nash’s set design of arresting, simple backdrops are Jennifer Irwin’s richly conceived costumes. The ‘look’ springs from the natural world and favours a range of sepia tones. At times, the costumes function as theatrical props in motion. 

In ‘Spinifex,’ inspired by the trees in and around Lake Eyre, the women’s full skirts recall the pattern and decay of desiccated scrub. Spinifex shoots through the crown of their hats. As the sequences progress, the formerly muted hues morph into a green and blue radiance. 

Karen Norris’ lighting design adds telling depth to the changing tableaux and cycles of weather. In this moving exploration of the natural world, the graceful dancers were earnest, and deeply engaged and this and their grace touches the heart. Together they amplify teamwork, ensemble and connectedness. 

The dancers become sculptural forms. Frequently there are ambitious interconnected clusters contracting and expanding and splitting into solos, duos or trios mirroring the growth and power of nature. Ring’s stunning lexicon of moves is provocative and stirs the senses. Thrilling moments of synchronised unity defies the complexity of the choreography. 

Arabunna Elder, Reginald Dodd was consulted about the Arabunna’s culture in creating this timeless and authentic contribution to dance theatre. 

Read: Theatre review: Chalkface

David Page’s electronic score pulses and whispers. Pitted against the effervescent swell are sustained tones that represents the continuity through the ages. The haunting, bubbling collage of ambient sound, references insects, classical fragments, everyday sounds and, at one juncture a wailing police siren integrated within the stimulating montage. Page’s purposeful fluid musical narrative propels the drama along.

This was powerful, poignant theatre much appreciated by the audience.

Bangarra Dance Theatre
Playhouse Theatre
. Queensland Performing Arts Centre
Choreographer: Frances Rings
Cultural consultant: Arabunna Elder Reginald Dodd
Composer: David Page
Set Designer: Jacob Nash
Costume Designer: Jennifer Irwin
Lighting Designer: Karen Norris

Tickets: $29-$88

Terrain will be performing until 13 August 2022

Gillian Wills is an author and arts writer who has published with ArtsHub, Australian Stage Online, Limelight, Griffith Review, Australian Book Review, The Australian, Weekend Review, Good Reading, The Strad (UK) Cut Common, Loudmouth and Artist Profile. Her short stories have been published with Dillydoun Review, Antonym, Dewdrop, Unbelievable Stories and Hare’s Paw Literary Journal. Her memoir, Elvis and Me: how a world-weary musician and a broken racehorse rescued each other, Finch Pty was released in 2016 in Australia, America, Canada, The UK and NZ.