Bangarra's beauty in Dark Emu
IN recent years, Bangarra Dance Theatre productions have often been driven by specific narratives. Such is the case here, with Dark Emu inspired by a book of the same name.
Author Bruce Pascoe reveals the sophisticated farming and land management of aboriginal people, shattering the myth that they were hunter-gathers. But the rich 70 minute dance piece feels far from an academic history lesson.
Quite the opposite, Dark Emu has an abstract, non-linear drive that revels in evocative textures - seeds, pods, fire, oil, insects and dust - through every aspect of the work, especially Jacob Nash’s multi-dimensional set and Jennifer Irwin’s detailed and variously material-ed costumes.
Only towards its end does Dark Emu present a more literal depiction related to colonialism that, in some ways, jars with the more ambient effect of the activity.
With plot an inspiration but not a driver, Dark Emu becomes a carefully woven tapestry of mass-ensemble choreographies and the 18-strong company (10 men, eight women) are supremely beautiful, equally adroit with challenging contemporary choreography and the indigenous styles and accents that make Bangarra’s aesthetic so unique.
Despite a few brief solos, Dark Emu is not about any individuals, it’s purposefully group driven and while this makes for a deeply visceral experience, it also creates a single dynamic rather than an ebb and flow of focal points. Choreographic trio Stephen Page, Daniel Riley and Yolande Brown harness a united vision and smooth integration with the sets throughout the multiple themed sections.
Integral to Dark Emu, Steve Francis’s extensive music includes aural contributions from both the dancers and Pascoe himself and mixes instrumentation with the evocation of insects, cattle, rain and vocals from the Yuin region.
As with all Bangarra works, sound yokes the myriad of visual elements and, in Dark Emu’s case, contributes to both the atmospheric nature and factual drives of the material.