Lake Eyre is one of the world’s greatest, relatively untouched natural landmarks. An inland sea smack in the middle of Earth’s driest inhabited continent, it is a site of flood and drought; an ancient lake of geographic and cultural wonder.
Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Terrain, showing at Sydney Opera House’s Drama Studio till August, takes us on a sensory journey through the culture and history of this sacred site. And sensory this experience is, with the design elements of Terrain taking centre-stage.
From costume, lighting and set design to the beautifully evocative choreography (Frances Rings), Bangarra’s latest project is visuallyawe-inspiring. Jacob Nash’s design effectively brings central Australia to the Drama Studio stage, with two-dimensional, floor-to-ceiling paintings that seem to contort and swirl within the sparse space. Beautifully contrasting backdrops change seamlessly before our eyes, capturing both traditional Aboriginal art and the varied topography of Lake Eyre. Costumes (Jennifer Irwin) are visually effective (albeit occasionally impractical, with more than a couple of distracting wardrobe malfunctions), and both the lighting (Karen Norris) and set design masterfully employ colour to capture the varying personas of Australia’s largest lake – Terrain’s striking opening image manages to explore the vastness of Lake Eyre in only a split second of white light.
David Page’s score is an aural journey through this landscape, providing far more than a beat to which the dancers move. Page craftily weaves traditional Indigenous music into a contemporary soundtrack, which rumbles with a dark intensity and complexity akin to the likes of Amon Tobin and Trent Reznor.
The storytelling, however, is at times opaque and ensemble moments could be more effective if performed with more precision. That said, Terrain beautifully conveys the infinite stretches of land, clusters of trees, salt particles and puddles of aqua-marine water come to life. With a simple touch of powder-coated bodies, particles of white power levitate in the air, creating the impression of dancers moving on a timeless dusty plain, and we are reminded of Bangarra’s undeniable ability to transport their audience.
Bangarra prides itself on being more than a dance company, and Terrain certainly suggests that there is more to Bangarra than dancers on stage. Terrain is dance, theatre, music, movement and visual art; a powerful and inspirational example of multi-artform performance.