The evening begins with a tribute to Chicago’s First People, honoring the fact that we were gathering and seated on lands of the Council of the Three Fires: the Odawa, Ojibwe and Potawatami. The ensemble goes on to thank Chicago’s rich First Nations cultures and their elders for their generosity allowing them to perform on their lands. The name Bangarra means the act of making a fire in the Wiradjuri language and the ensemble certainly ignited the Harris stage.
The first work, Spirit, a reconstituted work with sections drawn from other pieces dated 1994 to 2002, and has 5 sections of movement framed by opening and closing video content which serves to locate the work in a 65,000 year continuum of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. The first section is called Black and features six male dancers who enter with bush headdresses/props. There is white ochre wiped across their foreheads to protect and maintain the male spirit. The dance is at once primal and formal: a seamless blend of ancient ethnospecific dance and the clear composition and technique of contemporary dance.
The second piece, Nyapanyapa, is a kind of impressionistic story ballet inspired by the Yirrkala painting Buffalo Story Painting, where the painter Nyapanyapa Yunupingu depicts her near fatal encounter with a buffalo. The dance brings the painting beautifully to life. Again the men’s dancing takes center stage with them partnering each other in novel ways, as visual elements creating an overall stage picture. It is only towards the very end we see a duet with a man and a woman and it is a formal construct instead of a romantic encounter. Jacob Nash’s set calls up the actual art work, and there is a gorgeous use of smoke sticks in the highly ritualistic ceremonial conclusion.
This is a company to see again: the wondrous athleticism of the dancers, the gorgeous and masterful choreography, the connection to a culture we do not often see, all make this a truly noteworthy company not to be missed if they pass this way again.
Bangarra ran at the Harris Theater, 205 East Randolph Street, Chicago on November 22 and 23rd, 2019. For more information go to Dance, Music, Performing Arts in Chicago | Harris Theater Millennium Park | Harris Theater Millennium Park