A Cultural Epic of Resilience and Remembrance
Reviewed by Brendan Daynes
Within the realm of dance, there are moments when a performance transcends the stage’s boundaries, skilfully weaving together history, heritage, and humanity. Yuldea presented by Bangarra Dance Theatre, under the visionary direction of Frances Rings, epitomises this phenomenon. Those fortunate enough to witness it are granted a privilege—a profound narrative that deeply resonates with the essence of Australia’s soul.
The audience is taken on a journey through the chronicles of time, immersing us in the world of the Anangu of the Great Victorian Desert and the Nunga of Far West South Australia. What unfolds is a compelling depiction of the collision of traditional life with industrial ambition, notably marked by the arrival of the Trans-Australian Railway in 1917 and the subsequent draining of the vital soak water source. This cataclysmic shift forced the Anangu people from their ancestral lands, echoing the impact of atomic testing at Maralinga.
From the very first moments the audience is immersed in a visual and emotional symphony that explores the rich Anangu and Nunga experience. The dancers elegantly depict the Anangu clans’ connection with the night sky, embodying stars and conveying the impending change. Through their choreography, the crucial role of water in desert life is accentuated, underlining the significance of accessing the sole permanent water source. The production uncovers the harsh consequences of colonisation by exploring the historical events and their impact on displacement and foreign influences. It delves into the heart-wrenching aftermath of atomic testing, depicting the devastation and resilience of a people scarred by uncontrollable forces. The performance concludes with a celebration of the enduring connection between the Anangu people, their land, and the celestial Songline, with a particular focus on elders passing down memories with deep reverence, creating a symphony of visuals and emotions throughout.
Frances Rings, who has a rich history with the company, marks her directorial debut as the Artistic Director of Bangarra Dance Theatre with this profound ceremonial celebration of history and heritage. In collaboration with the talented dancers she has crafted an amazing first production in her new role that transcends dance. It’s a visual and emotional tapestry woven from the threads of history and tradition. The choreography, featuring the innovative use of a bungee cord, catapults the dancers into a realm that brilliantly showcases their talents while adding a metaphorical dimension, as if they’re leaping through the pages of history. Notably, the choreography’s playfulness harmonises seamlessly with the dynamic lighting and set design, creating an additional layer of emotion. Elizabeth Gadsby’s set design and Jennifer Irwin’s costumes are spectacular, cleverly integrated into the choreography without being too literal. The lighting design by Karen Norris is equally exceptional, using light to cast layers and dimensions through the set, evoking various places and emotions. The original composition by Leon Rodgers, with guest contributions from Electric Fields, is hauntingly beautiful, serving as the backbone of the production and guiding the audience through the emotional highs and lows of the Anangu and Nunga journey.
Bangarra Dance Theatre consistently triumphs in masterfully harnessing their platform to creatively and effectively underscore the shared responsibility of remembering history from the perspective of our First Nations people. Yuldea, the next chapter in this commitment, powerfully compels audiences to recognise the dual narratives that have profoundly shaped Australia. It serves as a poignant reminder of our responsibility to acknowledge these two stories. Additionally, it stands as a powerful testament to the enduring resilience of the Anangu and Nunga people, whose unwavering spirit continues to shine brightly, even amidst formidable challenges.
Yuldea is a masterful blend of storytelling and performance, leaving a lasting imprint on the heart and mind. Bangarra Dance Theatre has created a work of art that warrants not just applause but also deep contemplation. This production takes you on a transcendent journey beyond time and place, while celebrating the indomitable spirit of Australia’s First Nations people.
Yuldea is currently playing on Wurundjeri Country at The Arts Centre Melbourne until 7th October, before moving to Djarra Country at the Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo. For more information on the production or to purchase tickets visit https://www.bangarra.com.au/productions/yuldea/