REVIEW: Bangarra Dance Company’s BLAK

Traditional and contemporary clash and coalesce

By Tania Herbert

Founded in 1989, the Bangarra Dance Company has been heralded as one of the most important Indigenous performance groups in Australia, and it’s easy to see why with their newest work, Blak.

Blak takes the audience members on a journey of exploration of what it means to be an Indigenous Australian in modern society, with several stories through dance depicting stories of men and women caught in a clash of cultures old and new.

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The show opens with seven men in hoodies and skinny jeans- urbanized, disenfranchised and often violent, dancing an urban corroboree caught out of place and time. Through dynamic explosions of movement, we see the men slowly revert from lost inner city boys to men celebrating their traditional culture.

From the men we move to the women- and see a reverse story of women first from the sea, then moving to the village and into modern society  Equally engaging and impassioned, the piece deals with strong and emotive issues of women being silenced in modern society, a mother mourning the difficulties of passing on her culture to her daughters, and the fear of speaking out.

For me, however, the highlight of the performance was the following piece- where we saw men and women come together equally. Barely able to be differentiated from one another, the partner work was beautiful and uplifting. The performance closes with a stunning rain effect, and if the standing ovation of opening night was any indication, the audience was able to connect with the plethora of emotions portrayed by an amazingly talented troupe of dancers.

This is well and truly a contemporary dance show– the basic concepts are communicated clearly, but some of the complexities of the stories being told were not always so clear. However, when dancing is this beautiful, it is easy to just sit back and absorb.

The soundscape by composer David Page is an engaging as the dancing, with deep electronic beats interwoven with a haunting score, sounds of indigenous instruments, and stories told in English, Creole and Language. Costumes were beautifully designed and the onstage costume changes between modern and traditional presentation (including application of body paint) greatly added to the immersion experience.

Blak is playing at the Playhouse, Melbourne Arts Centre, and will then be touring in NSW. See website for more details: www.bangarra.com.au

Melbourne performances:

Tues 7 May, 6.30pm

8 – 11 May 2013, 8pm

Saturday 11 May, 2pm matinee

Tickets: $29 – $89

Bookings: http://artscentremelbourne.com.au or call 1300 182 183

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