Wednesday, 10 July 2013 15:38

Blak: Dance In Preview

Through the synergy of dance and sound, some of Australia’s finest artists unite to tell emotionally charged stories of a contemporary clan.

Drawn from the artists’ own urban perspectives, Bangarra’s ‘Blak’ is a powerful work of dance theatre that encapsulates modern indigenous Australia and the collision of two worlds.

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director Stephen Page and dancer/ choreographer Daniel Riley McKinley expose the universal yearning for spiritual connection, by merging the worlds of old and new indigenous culture.

Bangarra’s artist in residence and music composer, David Page, collaborates with multi-ARIA award winning artist Paul Mac, on the production’s exciting musical soundscape. “I think as collaborators you can’t just play it safe. It’s been a collaboration of music knowledge between us. We took it to that level of really contemporary sonic, electronic sounding music that still has the element of traditional voice.”

According to David, ‘Blak’ is broken up into three powerful sections.

“They are all very much about the subject of black, who is black, what is black, because people can put you in that pigeonhole of Aboriginality, and we wanted to explore that.

“Scar, is the piece where a clan of boys prepare their spirits for the physical and mental journey of entering manhood. It’s really energetic and choreographed by Daniel [Riley McKinley], who’s dancing in it as well.

“Yearning, the female piece follows; it’s about respecting female existence. Musically, what I did was I got the dancers to research their own indigenous language and I recorded their native tongue, which I then incorporated in.

“In the last piece, Keepers, the men and women unite and pay homage to our elders, celebrating life, traditional culture and ceremonies. It’s really contemporary, like going to a nightclub or a traditional dance party.”

BLAK arrives at QPAC July 18-27.

Published in Dance
Wednesday, 29 June 2011 17:01


Dance in Preview   

Elma Kris is dancing in the wind – as both choreographer and dancer in ‘About’, a new work commissioned by Stephen Page for Bangarra Dance Theatre. A dancer for over ten years with the company, this is her second piece as choreographer and she is feeling both nervous and inspired.

The two-part Bangarra performance entitled ‘Belong’ features a section by Stephen Page and one by Elma. "My section is called 'About' and looks into aspects of Torres Strait Island culture and how the environment is so important to us as islanders.” Proud of her heritage, she was driven by memories and moments spent with her parents when choreographing this work.

“It is reflecting on how knowledge is passed down - knowledge of the land, seas, sky. It's about looking into the winds. I also give you, the audience, a language to describe these winds, rather than the European names. The words to describe the winds are Naigai, Zei, Sager and Kuki, and this was all told to me by my parents. They liked to go fishing, travel island to island by aluminium dinghy, so the winds became important to us.”

Her voice is animated as she describes the long ago conversations, “When I remember them talking about these things, they say ‘you mustn’t forget you can't even see the winds but can only feel them on your body, like emotions’. You can feel them on your skin, react to them - you feel, you fear.” If you have seen previous Bangarra performances, you will understand that this isn’t an odd or abstract subject matter choice, rather one that speaks to both choreographers and dancers and resonates with them. Elma speaks with reverence when talking of nature, “When it becomes a new day, you can feel it and you're like 'wow what a gorgeous day. What can we do today?' Things we see, we adapt to them but we can't see the wind. We can only see what it does to nature, the effect it has on trees. Or nothing moves because there is no wind. That kind of movement, the wind like a spirit, it is so inspiring.”

As part of the Bangarra ‘Belong’ national tour, Elma’s work speaks of the links between the land and the people, between communities and their environment. She explains, “It's my second work and it's more contemporary, more abstract. The music is fantastic. But still I worry how to convey the wind through the dancers. I think they will probably have expression on their faces, they will change from one section to the next section - depending on which wind they are representing. It becomes their journey as well for how do they see these winds? How do they feel it on their skin? How do they move their bodies?”

Her enthusiasm is contagious and her rapid-fire words flow fast, explaining her world on stage. “I like when you think about it - when you think about the weather because usually it's more about what you can see (like the rain, or the sun). But I feel with this show, I'm painting pictures and I want to bring this wind on stage and use the dancers bodies to represent that. It's kind of a magical, mystical moving of the wind, and they move like spirits.”

In an interesting addition, Elma will also be part of the production on stage as a storyteller.  When questioned, she explains, “The storyteller becomes the human because she is telling the story, she is not the wind. It is an experiment in how to use the body of a woman or a man to project this. It’s making it translate to the audience, I want to make them feel the wind like they are there, like it is washing over them as they watch.”

A company is nothing however without their dancers and Elma is full of praise for the Bangarra troupe. “The dancers are beautiful and they work so hard. When we are working and they do the moves and they come up with a shape – then I say to them ‘yes can I have that shape’ or I do my shape and then they add to it or want to add a jump to it and I have to say ‘hold on, I still have to work this out and you’re getting so excited.’ I do wonder what the audience will think and feel when they’re watching it. The dancers are all amazing and because I’m looking at it – I can see what they can’t and it looks so good.”

‘Belong’ by Bangarra Dance Theatre is on at the Playhouse QPAC from July 1-9.

Published in Urban
Wednesday, 07 July 2010 12:49

Bangarra Review 07.07.2010

Dance In Review

Between them, Frances Rings and Daniel Riley McKinley represent the two generations that bridge the remarkable history of the Bangarra Dance Theatre.

Fitting, then, that artistic director Stephen Page has paired them together in ‘Of Earth And Sky’, a new double bill which acknowledges what’s come before and embraces what could be.

The younger choreographer’s work comes first in a tribute to the ‘Cloud’ photographs of his late cousin, Michael Riley. The dancers enter the stage backwards, using their elbows and palms to push their bodies around the stage in invisible arcs. This immediately grounds the movement and helps the audience focus on David Page’s spare but atmospheric score. It may also reference the iconic image projected on the large floating screen behind them – a boomerang suspended against a blue sky.

In ‘Locust’, the dancers move across the stage in formation with their arms held behind their heads like wings. But it’s the ‘Angel’ sequence where the choreographer comes closest to matching Riley’s art on an emotional level. Waangenga Blanco is supported on Leonard Mickelo’s shoulders and legs for most of the pas de deux, their eyes searching the audience as their white-painted bodies slowly extend and contract. Beautiful stuff.

Rings makes good use throughout of a remarkable set-piece that resembles a giant piece of bark, having the dancers perform on top and underneath it, and even uses it as a projector screen.  

‘Artefact’ argues for the value of man-made objects, with the striking opening sequence featuring a large possum-skin coat. The design elements are clever and eye-catching, but the links between each section are less sure. Another visual highlight – a waterfall of fabric resembling pandanas leaves – is offset by repetitive choreography which doesn’t register emotionally.

Riley McKinley doesn’t get everything right either; his movement is held captive to the beat at times without advancing the story, and unison is over-used. But for a first-time choreographer he understands the importance of contrast and certainly has a sense of theatre, having the cast scatter feathers across the stage to match the closing image.

A recording of Michael Riley discussing his art and Aboriginality ends that work suggesting the next generation of Bangarra dance makers will continue to combine dance and politics with powerful results.

‘Of Earth And Sky’ continues at the Playhouse, QPAC until July 10.

Published in Dance
Wednesday, 30 June 2010 10:47

Bangarra Interview 30.06.2010

The Right Page

The recent Australian Dance Awards confirmed what QPAC regulars already knew – that Bangarra’s ‘Fire’ retrospective at the Playhouse was the show of 2009.

The production won prizes for outstanding performance by a company, while artistic director and Brisbane local Stephen Page was recognised for his services to dance across three decades.

“I think it’s going to be one of those years and shows that will never really leave the company,” says Bangarra young gun Daniel Riley-McKinley, who featured prominently in ‘Fire’. “Audiences will always talk about that show and how epic it was.”

But if Riley-McKinley’s star was already on the rise, it has the potential to go supernova when he presents his first commission as choreographer later this week. He joins veteran Bangarra collaborator Frances Rings to offer ‘Of Earth & Sky’, a new double bill which has its world premiere at South Bank. Not bad for a boy from Canberra who last choreographed something while studying at QUT.

“It’s a huge challenge. I’m quite lucky and fortunate that it is such a huge jump, going from creating a ten-minute thing at uni to come to this company and create a full work with a budget and a production team,” he says.

‘Of Earth & Sky’ reveals Page’s plans for his protégé and vision for Bangarra; embracing new muses and works to complement existing repertoire. It also allows Riley-McKinley to showcase the photographs of distant relative Michael Riley to a wider audience. The choreographer says the two never met, but upon seeing the late artist’s ‘Cloud’ series in 2007, the idea for a dance work was born.

“They’re so blue and vivid and beautiful, and ethereal in a way as well in that everything is impossibly suspended in these clouds. It’s almost like a dream sequence, like a song line of his own life.

“I thought ‘why can’t we put photography on stage with the company?’. It’s something Bangarra has never done. I really wanted to stay true to what Michael was about and celebrate his images properly.”

Working closely with Bangarra song man David Page, the choreographer has opted for an electronic-driven score which reflects the contemporary art behind it. The piece also offers a neat counterpoint to Frances Rings’ ‘Artefact’, which draws on the earth and the objects we craft from it.

Interestingly, Riley-McKinley’s path from dancer to dance maker reflects a similar one taken by his co-choreographer, Bangarra senior dancer Elma Kris and Page himself.

“I’m only 24 which is I guess how old Stephen was when he created his first work,” he says. “What we’ve aimed to do is set a new cornerstone for the company so we can move on and do another fantastic 20 years.”

The young performer strongly believes in the importance of tradition however, and says the ten days the company spent in Arnhem Land last year, in the build up to ‘Fire’, was pivotal to its success.

“Things like that cement the kinship throughout the company ... there’s that spiritual connection between us all, we all learn the same traditional dances and that’s what connects you,” he says.

Family ties are also important for Page, who grew up on Brisbane’s southside and always receives a rousing welcome when returning to QPAC.

“The majority of our dancers come from Queensland and my big mob are Murris so it is special having family and friends in the audience – it's a bit like a rowdy homecoming,” Page says.

Meanwhile, Riley-McKinley’s goal beyond opening night is clear: to spread the word about an indigenous Australian artist whose name should be better known.  

“For me, to open audiences up to Michael and his art is number one,” he says. “I want people who come to Bangarra who might not know who he is to see him and be interested to find out about his art and find out how amazing he was.”

‘Of Earth & Sky’ appears at the QPAC Playhouse July 2-10.

Published in Dance
Wednesday, 23 December 2009 11:44

Top Five Dance 2009


1. Fire retrospective – Bangarra Dance Theatre
You didn’t have to know anything about Bangarra’s extraordinary body of work to be blown away by ‘Fire’, which traversed 40 000 years in just over two hours. Stephen Page and composer brother David are responsible for some stunning work over the past two decades, much of it repackaged here in a fluid time trip. The best dance performance in a vintage year? You better believe it.

2. The Paris Opera Ballet
Nureyev’s final gift to the dance world was ‘La Bayadère’, an Indian-inspired odyssey that’s almost too grand for its own good. If that wasn’t enough, an eye-popping gala showed off works from ballet’s biggest names including Balanchine, Kylian and Bejart. It helped that the opening night parties were among the best Brisvegas has seen in years; better yet, rumour has it that another POB tour may not be too far away. Start saving now.

3. Construct – Tanja Liedtke
Paul White, Kristina Chan and the late Tanja Liedtke built ‘Construct’ in 2007 and deservedly cleaned up at this year’s Australian Dance Awards. A perceptive and often witty take on why we build things only to destroy them, ‘Construct’ elevates contemporary dance to a form of theatre accessible to many. Such brilliance comes with a sad side though, reminding us what could’ve been for this fabulously talented dance maker.

4. Queensland Ballet – 2009 season
A suitably sultry ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ kicked off a solid season for the state’s own classical company. German choreographer Mario Schröder’s wild, wet ‘Strawberry Lips’ was a winner for the 2009 ‘International Gala’, while Kim McCarthy’s beautiful ‘Nineteen’ was the highlight of this year’s ‘WithAttitude’. Recently ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ ticked all the boxes for an Xmas show, QB’s third Tchaikovsky ballet in as many years.

5. The Australian Ballet at the Riverstage
QPAC renovations meant the AB skipped their usual Brisbane season, but a free, open-air event almost made up for it. Straightforward choices from the company’s repertoire (‘The Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Don Quixote’, ‘Paquita’) mixed with the sizzling ‘El Tango’ and the pas de deux from ‘Diana and Actéon’. Sharing the experience with 10 000 others under the stars only added to the

And for the best of the rest, who could go past The Trocks? Forget the drag act label, these guys have superb technique and even better comic timing. Dance history 101 has never been so enjoyable.

Published in Dance


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