Opening Night: OUR Land People Stories

Rebecca Varidel
19th Jun 2016

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander storytellers, Bangarra Dance Theatre are in their third decade now, and this year Stephen Page celebrates 25 years as Artistic Director. "I don't even know what that means. Compare decades to 40,000 years and it means nothing. But the caretaking of it is the big responsibility, and one that I love" a tearful Steven Page announced at the reception on opening night.

OUR Land People Stories opened this week at the Bangarra Dance Theatre home of Sydney Opera House to an immensely excited and enthusiastic audience who responded to the emotional and energetic performance of the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander contemporary dance troupe.

The triple bill did indeed through dance, movement and music, portray important stories. The first with choreography by Jasmin Sheppard, music by David Page, and costumes by Jennifer Irwin detailed an historic account.


"The seed for Macq started when I first became aware of the 1816 massacre at Appin while living in Liverpool in Western Sydney about a decade ago" Sheppard recounts.

"An encroaching stature of Lachlan Macquarie's head there prompted in me the question: who was this man? It was as though the more I saw his name, the more I saw his name.

Macquarie is knows as the father of New South Wales in our education sysem, and yet for the First Nations people of the Sydney area, their reality was influenced by an entirely different man to the one whom we are taught to know. I wanted to delve into this reality and peel back the layers of this man, ad what impact his actions have had on Aborigianl past and present."

It is a sombre subject and started the evening on a heavy note. Yet it is important that this story is told. 2016 marks the 200th anniversary of the Appin massacre, therefore how poignant it is that this story is shared through Bangarra Dance Theatre. This first act, the opening act, first choreographed in 2013, delivered a heart-wrenching connection lightened by the farcical portrayal of British colonists. Although it commences with mourning, the dance is completed with hope.


Before interval, the new work Miyagan evolved from the storytelling of Wiradjuri kinsmen Beau Dean Riley Smith and Daniel Riley. Beau reckons the story was brewing inside of him before he joined Bangarra. Dan feels he has taken the positive step towards feeling like he belong to a place, a piece of land and a culture through the creation of this dance. Along the way, they say, this work became a reflection of the company, Bangarra Dance Theatre and how strong and connected they are as a family. With Miyagan and remembering kinship the weight of history lifted. In a beautifully fluid and flowing piece with original electronic music by composer Paul Mac and costumes by Jennifer Irwin, the connection moved beyond the staged and seized all of the audience. We were spirited into the energy, trussed to our dance clan, embraced beyond bodies and music, we became one.

"Kinship, and the bonds we all share as indigenous people of this land, are what connects us to the land, to each other and to our cultural responsibilities. It also influences our social behaviour.

There is nothing more value than miyagan, without kinship/family there is no life."


Nyapanyapa the third dance, is inspired by Yolngu woman artist Nyapanyapa Yunupingu.

Head of Design, Jacob Nash travelled to Yirrakala to observe Nyaanyapa and her work. In realising his vision,  his stage design for this dance is in itself a magnificent work of art. With the music of Steve Francis, the costume design of Jennifer Irwin, this glorious staging aided by the innovative lighting of Matt Cox, this stunningly original new contemporary dance work of 2016 was choreographed by Bangarra Dance Theatre Artistic Director, Stephen Page in collaboration with the Bangarra dancers.

"Painting for her is a meditative process - a place of reflection, embedded in her life and history. It reminds me of why I started dancing as a young man - because I had to, because it was my calling, and because it took me to a safe and spiritual place" Stephen Page recalls.

From Buffaloes to In Her Mind we were entranced and transported by his choreography. Overlaying the visual of dance, the powerful story of Buffaloes is told in the oral tradition of storytelling, with in parallel a reverberating translation to English. One of the most effervescent parts of the night Bush Apples sparkled brilliantly with popping red crisp movement accentuated by the sound of crunching apples. And the moment which resonated most profoundly was Poles of circling smoke. We finished with Soul of Spirit and with rousing applause and standing ovations.

What a pity there is not the opportunity for every Australian to see this majestic magnificent piece that embodies both the traditional and the contemporary in a spiritual heart connection. This dance and the dance company are national treasures.

OUR Land People Stories season will continue with a national tour to community. The national tour is dedicated to David Page.