Bangarra arrives at Sadler's Wells with an exploration of Aboriginal myths through its colourful and abstract use of dance and imagery in their latest offering Bush. Ten stories in all are presented, from the ritual Ceremony through to the masculine Goanna.
The company has an authentic feel to it, with many of the company and the choreographers Stephen Page and Frances Rings descending from Aboriginal tribes. Perhaps the most authentic touch in this performance is the powerful presence of Kathy Marika, a senior woman of her aboriginal clan the 'Rirratjingu.' Marika is described as 'the caretaker of these ancient stories' by Rings and watching the performance does provide the sense that she is passing on a part of the tradition.
This is the strength of Bangarra - they manage to meet the ancient and traditional worlds with the modern day and this is clearly evident with Bush. There were moments in this performance where you got the feeling that you where watching an ancient ritual being replayed before your eyes, especially in the company finale, Ceremony.
The strong company of dancers produce animalistic shapes and move with a real connection with the earth - walking on shoulders, stamping feet and sticks and slithering from the wall as if from nowhere to create a reminiscent scene of The Dreamtime and connection with the land.
There are beautiful moments which leap out and pull you in - an actual bush shaking and coming to life or feathers falling from the sky to cover the dancers in a blanket of white. There is an almost overwhelming duet, danced by Deborah Brown and Sani Townson, which represents the metamorphosis of the moth with exquisite simplicity.
These stunning little pictures are helped by an equally stunning lighting design by Nick Schlieper which sprays colour and shape in support of, rather than against, the action. The costume design (Jennifer Irwin) as well is simple and complements the movement - especially in the Goanna dance, where the men wear tough padded black which adds shape to their muscular frames.
Perhaps the most stunning gift offered by Bush is its soundtrack. David Page and Steve Francis have composed music in keeping with the traditional and modern. An eclectic mix of rhythms and sounds creates a multi-layered sound which seems to add energy and vibrancy to the piece. The use of voice (supplied by Kathy Marika) adds to the cultural framing of the performance, and the only shame is that this wasn't incorporated more into the performance.
Perhaps this is the only 'moan' with this show - the lack of voice from the performers was an apparent gap in the creation, especially with the complex and interesting dialectical sounds of Aboriginal Language. There was diversity in the stories being told, yet the transitions from one story to the other were often slow or presented a small drop in energy. Perhaps voice would have provided another dimension to these moments.
All in all, though, Bush is a wonderful piece of storytelling through dance, and evokes the Dreamtime and Aboriginal Australia in a way which complements the ritual, tradition and modern day living.
"Bush" Plays until September 16th 2006
Reviewer: John Johnson