Our Land

28 June 2012 | 2:12 pm | Liza Dezfouli

Bangarra Dance Company has always strived to bring traditional indigenous dance to the mainstream, and as Liza Dezfouli learns from Bangarra’s choreographer Francis Rings and composer David Page, their new work continues that with a vivid description of the land we live on.

“When you're on country, it's like holding a big mirror up to yourself.” Francis Rings, choreographer for Bangarra Dance Theatre's new work, Terrain, refers to the company's time spent at Lake Eyre, which informs the show. “It brings stuff up,” she continues. “You get to deal with stuff and let insignificant things go. You get to the core of yourself. And this isn't an aboriginal thing, it's a human thing.” David Page, who has composed the music for Terrain, continues the thread: “The land can do that to you. It's a great magical medicine. Our people have been saying this for years. You can become part of this groove, this channel. It's been happening for a long time. You slot in, go with it for a while and at the end of it you're grateful you've been able to be part of it.”

A homage to the lake and its surrounds, Terrain is an exploration, an offering, an expression of connection to place, both past and present. “Most of Bangarra's work is land-related,” says Page. The company spent time at Lake Eyre getting to know the local Arabunna elders and making sure they got their stories right. Rings and Page both talk about the deep connection they felt with the area. “The lake was full,” remembers Page. “There was all that water and a great silence, a deafening silence.” “It's this incredible, amazing landscape,” notes Rings. “It resonates with something, a sense of respect for the place; everyone was affected. You're so distracted in the city but once you get on the Oodnadatta track and see the elders out there… They just look right through you.”

Making these experiences into art is Bangarra Dance Theatre's essential role. Rings explains: “We are translating the stories of Black Australia. We're getting up and sayin' 'we're here'. As Aboriginals we are always trying to prove ourselves. We're still here and we have a lineage that traces back thousands of years. Story is rekindling culture; we can all embrace it, all learn from it. We all come across our challenges and are finding ways to reinvent ourselves. How do we maintain and protect culture, present a living history? When people go, 'How do you translate that into dance?' It's the same way an Indigenous artist does it: You don't literally paint a hill but there's an energy, a presence, something that connects your spirit. How do you respond to it? This is our country. This is our voice. The stories affect all of us; you open yourself up to it.”

Both artists regard themselves as creative conduits whereby stories of the country tell themselves. “It's songlines – a tradition,” says Page. “I see myself as a music songman from my culture. I am part of the storytelling process, that traditional storytelling.” Rings is highly conscious of the responsibility involved in her work on Terrain, her first full-length choreography. “I am following in big footsteps; they're massive shoes to fill, she says. Putting the work together is an aptly organic process, sometimes the dance movements come first, sometimes the music. “She'll arrange a piece of choreography and I'll come and put my spin on it, “ continues Page. “We throw it back and forth.”

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

Terrain runs from Friday 29 June, until Saturday 7 July, The Arts Centre.