Sydney Festival World Premiere -barra

Rebecca Varidel
17th Jan 2022

Let the river sing and the red dirt rumble. A journey from Gadigal Land to Yuwaalaraay Country in north-western New South Wales.

Where to start when telling you about -barra? Well, we were blessed it was on at the wonderful City Recital Hall on Gadigal Land which has some of, if not the best acoustics and most positive energy in Sydney. The performance Sunday night 16 January 2022 was the World Premiere. And this performance was part of Sydney Festival.

There were so many artistic collaborations within -barra, again, where to start?

Yuwaalaraay artists Nardi Simpson, Lucy Simpson and Brendan Odee Welsh joined forces with Sydney’s musical mavericks, Ensemble Offspring, led by internationally acclaimed percussionist Claire Edwardes, jazz pianist Kevin Hunt, and Barayagal choir for an unforgettable narrative into the Australian interior.

Nardi was centre stage as the storyteller and choir leader, and my goodness I don't feel I've ever been as captivated. Every word, every intonation, every gesture, every pause added to the impact of this journey. Behind, under, around, embracing her storytelling was the instrumental music, the vocals of the choir, the pictures on the screen above.

The music was enchanting uplifted through percussion, not the usual suspects, and with a few different types of wind chimes being rattled in time by Claire Edwardes. Even watching the playing of expert keyboards by Kevin Hunt was true delight, enhanced by his spirit and smile.

Nadia, the musicians and the choir were finely costumed, black as basic with the softness of pink accessorising, each scarf wrapped individually in a different way. With Lamorna Nightingale and her divine flute adding her own extra dimension.

There was this time near the end when they were singing about family, and Nadia reached over and touched her sister Lucy. Oh my heart melted. It was so spontaneous and filled with so much love. Just like we loved this grounding and heart opening, spiritual and healing, sonic and visual work.

From each and every performer, joy radiated from their eyes, their smiles, their hearts.

-barra was truly a most profoundly beautiful and meaningful experience.

Although these are components that I have humbly stumbled through describing, that wasn't it. It wasn't the whole. Together these, and more, synchronised in harmony to take us on these travels, as if we were riding on the clouds experiencing something ethereal, yet at the same time we were the very earth itself of this great land.

One thing's for sure that leaves no questions or doubts, every Australian should see this brilliant performance piece.

Photos by Yaya Stempler, courtesy of Sydney Festival.