Thursday, July 05, 2012

Big name, big blanket. Bangarra’s Terrain by Frances Rings.

My first glimpse of Lake Eyre (or Kati Thanda as the Arabana know it) was from 38,000 feet, as a youngie. It had been in flood for the better part of two years in the mid 70s -- supposedly the biggest flood in the last century or more -- and had been topped up by a spring downpour... enough rain to cut the road to Alice Springs.

Ella Havelka in Terrain (Photograph: Greg Barrett)

I didn’t know then that it was the lowest part of the continent. (15 metres below sea level, apparently. Who knew?!) But I sure as hell knew that the search for an inland sea (which had obsessed European explorers for decades) was well-and-truly on the money. This inland sea was even salty!

Now, I know to mistrust Wikipedia when it comes to some things Australian -- it took years to persuade a few ignorant and intractable editors that Brisbane is not in fact the nation’s biggest city, just the biggest city council -- so you should take the following factoid as salt-encrusted... Anyway, the ’pedia reckons that Lake Eyre, when full, is the 18th largest on the planet. I assume they’re calculating by area (almost 10,000 square km) rather than volume, but that’s not stated in the article. Let’s put it this way, it’s not the kind of lake you build a grand prix circuit around. It’s roughly five times larger than Port Phillip Bay. Again, in area. (Not that Port Phillip is all that deep, mind!)

The timing of Bangarra’s new show, Terrain, which is inspired by the lake, is uncanny. It coincided, to the week, with a Federal Court ruling giving the Arabana non-exclusive Native Title to Lake Eyre and its surrounds -- approximately 69,000 square kilometers -- ending an action begun 14 years ago.

Just days before the first performance of Terrain in Melbourne, around 300 Arabana people gathered under a marquee at Finniss Springs Mission not far from the lake to hear Federal Court judge Paul Finn’s ruling.

Frances Rings’ mob, the Kokatha, hail from South Australia. Roxby Downs territory, south of Lake Eyre, so near neighbours to the Arabana. While Rings is certainly responding to the look of the land, its plants and animals, her new work for Bangarra, Terrain, uses the boom and bust cycle of the lake as a metaphor for the connection to land that indigenous peoples have. It’s never broken, she says. It can lie dormant for years then spring back to life.

But that’s just one axis in a multidimensional work that, like a lot of dance, is hugely reduced, and simplified, when translated into words.

My official review of Terrain was published in Monday’s Australian. It’s on-line, here.

Terrain by Frances Rings. Bangarra Dance Theatre. Playhouse, the Arts Centre, Melbourne, June 29 & 30. Tickets: $70 & $85. Family: $160. Bookings artscentremelbourne.com.au and 1300 182 183. Season ends July 7.

Also Sydney Opera House, July 18-August 18; IPAC, Wollongong, August 24-25; Adelaide Festival Centre, August 29-September 1; Canberra Theatre Centre, September 13-15 and QPAC, Brisbane, October 3-7.

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