Theatre | Bangarra's spirited return | Ken Longworth

OUR LAND PEOPLE STORIES: Bangarra Dance Ensemble in the Nyapanyapa tale.  Photo: Edward Mulvihill
OUR LAND PEOPLE STORIES: Bangarra Dance Ensemble in the Nyapanyapa tale. Photo: Edward Mulvihill

BANGARRA Dance Theatre’s OUR land people stories includes three very different tales about indigenous Australians and their lives, but the whole program wowed audiences and reviewers when it toured to capital cities in 2016, receiving standing ovations.

The Brisbane-based company has remounted the show for a 2018 tour to key regional centres, beginning with Newcastle’s Civic Theatre on February 9 and 10.

OUR land people stories opens with Macq, which looks at a largely unknown aspect of Governor Macquarie’s relationship with Aboriginal people in NSW. Macquarie has largely been seen as having respect for the indigenous residents, but this work shows how he ordered in 1816 a massacre of members of the D’harawal people at Appin, south of Sydney, with more than 12 being killed.

Miyagan explores the kinships of the Wiradjuri people, the largest Aboriginal group in New South Wales who live along the western side of the Great Dividing Range, including at Dubbo. (The title means “our family” in the Wiradjuri language.)

Nyapanyapa was inspired by the life and beautifully textured paintings of Yirrkala artist Nyapanyapa Yunupingu, with projections showing many of her artworks behind the dancers.

The three segments, which feature 17 indigenous dancers drawn from throughout Australia, make clear why Bangarra has the word “theatre” in its company name. There are very different styles of background music in each of the stories.

Macq, for example, has voice-over excerpts from Governor Macquarie’s diaries, which include his attempts at justifying the Appin massacre, as well as showing the respected aspects of his character. And the contrast between the military uniforms of the soldiers and the practical garb of the Aboriginals likewise show the differences between the invaders and the indigenous residents.

The dancers in Miyagan are backed by a colourful set that has branches represented by large emu feathers, with many of the branches vanishing by the story’s end. And Nyapanyapa brightly shows the nature of the title artist’s works and the things that influenced them, beginning with her being attacked by a water buffalo as a child, an incident that recurs in her art works. 

A large Bangarra team worked on the development of OUR land people stories, with the show dedicated to David Page, who put together the music for Macq. David Page, the brother of Bangarra artistic director Stephen Page, died unexpectedly just two months before the show opened in 2016.

OUR land people stories can be seen at 8pm on February 9 and 10. Tickets: $35 to $58. Bookings: 4929 1977.