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  • Writer's pictureFiona Prior

SandSong: Stories from the Great Sandy Desert (Bangarra Dance Theatre)

Updated: Jun 17, 2021

SandSong: Stories from the Great Sandy Desert (Bangarra Dance Theatre)

Artistic director: Stephen Page

Associate artistic director: Frances Rings

Choreographers: Stephen Page & Frances Rings

The beginning, middle and continuation of ‘SandSong’ takes place under the vast Kimberley sky. Just before the dancers make their presence apparent, a video montage assaults us with a chaotic stream of newsreel bites and images; of Governments, policies, droughts, explosions, mining rights ... It is the explosion in the desert and the film rushes of aboriginal men in singlets and shorts behind fences that catch my eye, standing out from an already disturbing picture show.

The stage then literally glows with gold as what appears to be a geographical feature turns into a group of writhing dancers, opening themselves to the streams of golden light and water; bathing arms, legs and faces in the luminous substance.

The sets (Jason Nash) and lighting (Nick Schlieper) throughout ‘SandSong’ are a revelation – earthy, minimal with a brilliant use of coloured filters and shadow-play. A backdrop that at first looks to be some sort of golden, mythical sky quickly takes on the likeness of a glowing mineral that continually shape and colour-shifts; at turns the crimson, bloody membrane of a living creature, then a shadowed evening sky, to a parched landscape, and so on … accentuating story, mood and physical performance. Likewise, the costumes by Jennifer Irwin evoke both the beauty of the outback and the undeniable connection of this indomitable People to the landscape and its gifts; Irwin’s costumes displaying a far more rapturous eco-creativity that work perfectly with the ambient and more restrained sets.

I cannot hope to evoke this story in any way that does justice to Bangarra’s ‘SandSong’ production so I will use the words from ‘SandSong’s’ accompanying programme:

Under the vast Kimberley sky, the red pindan dust stretches across the desert homelands of the Wangkatjungka and Walmajarri, where the ancient knowledge of People and of Country is preserved through Songlines that have endured for hundreds of generations.

At the heart of this land is Jila – the Living Water – that resides in dessert waterholes across the region and is the basis of cultural beliefs and practices ...

Every new Bangarra work is a performance of colour, texture, light and sound. All these elements work with the dancers on stage as they story-tell using Bangarra’s unique mix of traditional and contemporary dance – always an evolving and living narrative of history – natural, anthropological and political.

We watch an undulating canvas of seasons, of traditions and of conflicts, to an end that is as golden as its beginning – of dancers washing themselves in the streams of golden water that presumably is ‘Jila’, the living water of survival.

Sydney Opera House | 10 June – 10 July | BOOK NOW | Audio Described* Canberra Theatre Centre | 15 – 17 July | BOOK NOW Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo | 23 & 24 July | BOOK NOW QPAC, Brisbane | 13 – 21 August | BOOK NOW Arts Centre Melbourne | 27 August – 4 September | BOOK NOW

Highly recommended!

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