Bangarra Dance Theatre. Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House. 11 June to 13 July, 2024

Reviewed : 13 June, 2024*

Photo : Daniel Boud

The Directors of Bangarra describe Horizon as a “coming together of cultures to define what is home”. Three choreographers explore the theme of “home” in a cultural collaboration that merges images of the past and issues of the present in dance stories that link the “generations of people across the Oceania region” and reach out to a broader, global audience.

Kulka – Choreographer Sani Townson

Photo : Daniel Boud

The delightfully passionate Sani Townson brings the light-footed dance traditions and agile movement of the Saybaylayg (People of Saibai Island) of the Zenadth Kes (Torres Strait) to that broader stage. In Kulka he calls to the stars on which the family clans, totems, traditional stories and dances of the Saybaylayg are based.  But because Townson also sees himself as a contemporary choreographer, the cultural “treasures” of the past are shared in a dance story that is a beautiful blend of traditional and contemporary movement.

On a dark mirrored stage, male dancers, sleek in brown and bronze, lift a woman high above their heads, her aqua train falling in soft watery waves as she reaches to the stars, then drifting as she floats down and is raised again. Balletic lifts and leaps and traditional choreography come together in a story of place, family and totem.

Sky, earth and sea merge in this evocative creation where magical angles of light form shapes like the figure of Ait Koedal the crocodile that shines on three crouched, still figures that become the stealthy totem.

The Light InsideChoreographers Deborah Brown, Moss Te Ururangi Patterson

Photo : Daniel Boud

The Light Inside shines across two lands with similar traditions and messages, messages of identity and longevity that have been handed down in dance and song across the islands of Oceania over so many generations.

Deborah Brown’s Salt Water is a homage to her mother and the “connection to sea, sky and land” of the Zenadth Kes and the many visitors that came by the sea to share those connections. Brown’s choreography conjures the “the place where the sea, land and sky converge” as the dancers weave and reach, come together and move apart, every carefully controlled movement reflected below them in the mirrored floor.

As the reflections move and spread like ripples on still water they seem to connect the land and sea – and the twelve dancers anchor those connections in choreography that brings past and present together in a message to the future.

Moss Te Ururangi Patteron’s Light Inside shines across the sea from Aotearoa.

Moss merges traditional Māori song and dance with contemporary choreography in another inspiring message to the future. His message,  about upholding the “hopes and dreams of our elders” and keeping their light shining is strong, and he tells it strongly, incorporating in his choreography the chanting, stamping, gestures and expressions of the haka that are so symbolic to Māori culture and are recognised so widely.

Patterson manages, like Townson and Brown, to merge contemporary and traditional dance in a way that enriches and strengthens the messages that they have come together to create.

So too do the creatives that have worked so closely with them to bring their Horizons together. Their artistic technology adds a new truth to these stories that unfold in movement.

Elizabeth Gadsby’s wide glassy stage is a shining sea. The mirrored backdrop that shimmers above Kulka, becomes the shoreline for Salt Water and the rugged coastline mountains of Aotearoa that rise higher and higher as the dancers narrate in movement the messages of The Light Inside.

Photo : Daniel Boud

Add the lighting effects and AV effects created by Karen Norris and the stage becomes a mystic island holding stories of the past that composers Steve Francis, Brendon Boney and Amy Flannery whisper and call in sounds that are almost futuristic.

Costume designers Jennifer Irwin and Clair Parker invoke the connections of sky, sea and land in light, flowing fluorescent fabrics – lazuline blues, dark, earthy browns and lighter, stubbly yellows – that move with the dancers, accentuating their grace and elegance and the flow of the choreography.

Choreographers, dancers and creatives come together in this historic artistic and cultural collaboration that takes Bangarra’s to a broader, new Horizon.

*Opening performance