Bangarra Dance Theatre – Ochres 1995 Co-Choreographers: Stephen Page and Bernadette Walong Composer: David Page Cultural Consultant: Djakapurra Munyarryun Lighting Design: Joseph Mercurio Set Designer: Peter England A Passion for Dance “For me, I think the importance of going back to the traditional style of dance was that I was able to observe and watch our traditional teachers, not just for the dance steps but to be aware of what environment they came from, what their landscape was like geographically, and to try and understand their kinship and their customs and their values.
– Stephen Page Being an indigenous artist, Stephen Page’s priorities would be recognized as bringing indigenous culture to the crowds in a creative and respectful manner. Growing up in the town of Mount Gravatt in Brisbane, raised with no association or relationship with the aboriginal race, Page fell in love with the heritage of these people and began educating himself additionally on their beliefs, traditional values and especially dance. As the artistic director of Bangarra Dance Theatre since 1992, Stephen has had plenty of opportunities to discover ways of doing so.
Page achieved this through his production of Ochres in 1995, when he astounded critics internationally. By growing up in urban Brisbane, Page can relate quite a bit to the Indigenous and Australian culture, which helps bring them together through his unique style of dance. ‘Ochres’ is distributed into four units; Black, Red, Yellow and White. This particular essay focuses on analysing and discussing the ‘Yellow’ unit of motherhood and earth; portraying the various movements, sounds, lighting and costume choices etc. n which Page has chosen to use and how his choices support the quote stated above. Using various contemporary ideas and many high experienced dancers, Page has choreographed and showcased a remarkable and significant performance to embrace indigenous history. Ochres are among the earliest pigments used by mankind, derived from naturally tinted clay containing mineral oxides. It was one of the first forms of paint used by people. Depending on the individuals indigenous spiritual beliefs and their mob, depended on which painting you received on your body, all of which having a symbolic meaning.
It is known that ‘Yellow’ holds a deeper representation and as Page mentioned in his choreographers notes; “I believe the landscape to be mother. Its flowing rivers she cleanses in, the yellow ochre she dresses in, the sun and the season she nourishes – gathering, nesting and birthing along her travels. ” Just like any other traditional Aboriginal dance, ‘Yellow’ begins with paint up. This is then performed by Bangarra Cultural consultant, Djakapurra Munyarryun and the traditional Arnhem Land man using various sweeping movements to spread the ochre over the body.
With the performance based around the four colors of the sacred tradition, Page splits the dance into sections with each signifying a specific importance. The opening sequence has Djakapurra Munyarryun performing symbolic movements to help demonstrate his leadership and relation with Mother Nature. A soft yellow/green light appears slowly whilst Munyarryun uses percussive and sustained motions staying very close to the ground to display his connection with earth. Djakapurra is then smothering himself with yellow paint which is symbolizing the desert and the earth.
The section “Yellow” is filled with movements that help achieve the vision Page was looking for. All the dancers stay grounded a lot, symbolizing that their spirits are a part of the landscape itself. Their low level allows their bodies to pick up the ochre scattered over the stage as if they are one with the land. The dancers make many unusual actions distorting themselves with stretches, rolls and percussive kicks, striking into a new shape to then mimic animals. With Page choosing this specific choice of choreography really shows the creation of life, but could also represent the indigenous concept of kinship and animal icons.
This was shown further when the dancers became ‘human’ and some of the themes got repeated. The indigenous culture has very specific and strict beliefs and/or customs they abide by. This routine has been represented in an extraordinary way to show their way of life and their legends. Strategically choreographing this piece to portray their culture effectively is something Page has done very well. Looking back over the performance you notice that majority of the movements selected are very low-level. This is constructed to portray the connection between Mother Nature and women themselves and how they forever work as one.
The dancers also implement many animal-like actions which also become very significant to the aboriginal lifestyle and culture because no matter what, earth is the creation of all. The next section of “Yellow” becomes a bit more emotional and demonstrates quite a significant part of Page’s quote. This piece consists of women still in low level positions but now interacting with a partner or child. Throughout this routine the dancers very rarely leave the ground as they intertwine with one another for support and help create a deeper meaning for the audience.
With various contracting movements the dancers switch between roles of animals, spirits and back to humans. The ochre that was earlier spread along the stage would adhere to the dancer’s skin and silk dresses as they rolled which gave a sense of belonging. They show their connection to each other through hugging and interlocking body parts with one another. A major event in an aboriginal woman’s life, if not one of the most important, is the initiation ceremony where young boys begin their journey into manhood.
This becomes deep as the mother no longer babies her child and has permitted him to take on the role of more important things and blossom into adulthood. Certain actions and symbolic images have been strategically placed throughout the performance to help the story flow and to give the audience an easier understanding of what was being accomplished. An example of this would be when the women are all seated around what seems to be a river or waterhole, using selected movements to portray that they are cleansing and nurturing themselves with this water as water is another key ingredient to life.
Throughout the production, Page used a very theatrical style. Peter England designed the set to look exactly like it should have. Joseph Mercurio kept the lighting design to a minimum, using natural colours to blend with the set design such as green, white and yellow etc. creating a beautiful effect of daylights and sunrises which suited the creation of the dance. David Page’s musical blend was extremely effective and gave the dance a narrator. The connection of all life to earth, the ochre, and the mother is determined.
I believe Stephen Page’s intent was very clear and presented in such a unique an outstanding way that kept us intrigued. One of the most effective techniques about “Ochres” was the way traditional and contemporary dance were merged so that the dance was more about meaning than the difficulty or status. Page successfully gave his audience the inside views to the spiritual side of this culture and successfully gave his audience a taste of “going back to traditional style of dance… the kinship, custom and values”. Emily Towle
Cite this Bangarra Dance Theatre
Bangarra Dance Theatre. (2016, Sep 13). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/bangarra-dance-theatre/