Ochres, Bangarra Dance Theatre

Carriageworks, Sydney, November 27.

OCHRES is embedded in Bangarra history and the memories of dance-lovers. Created in the company’s early days, not long after Stephen Page became artistic director, it had a distinctive style that has continued to serve Bangarra well. Audiences were entranced by the now familiar blend of traditional and contemporary movement, music and design and the insights Ochres gave into Indigenous culture. It was a landmark work; a revelation.

Ochres - Bangarra 2015 - Tara Robertson - Photo by Edward Mulvihill 1

Tara Robertson in Ochres. Photo: Edward Mulvihill

That was 21 years ago and it was a joy to see Ochres revived at Carriageworks with a dynamic new generation of dancers. Not that it’s exactly the work originally choreographed by Page and Bernadette Walong-Sene, nor should it be. Dance texts are particularly susceptible to change and Bangarra has developed greatly since the early 1990s. This revival is in the spirit of the original rather than a faithful dusting off of the old steps. The company is calling it a re-imagining and it looks wonderful.

Bangarra has a unique aesthetic based on the connection with Indigenous ceremony and the land. It’s extraordinarily beautiful and invigorating. Take, for instance, the way the dancers can be perfectly still and yet intensely watchful and alert. Their backs are perfectly straight, their necks long and poised, eyes vividly engaged. Every molecule seems to be vibrating with life and intent.

Or observe how the dancers stamp the ground, knees bent, while giving the impression of upwards motion. They don’t impose themselves on the land but tread lightly, often skimming, slithering or jumping.

Djakapurra Munyarryun Ochres 2015 Photo by Jhuny-Boy Borja

Djakapurra Munyarryun in Ochres. Photo: Jhuny-Boy Borja

Ochres overflows with such moments. In the opening section, Yellow (each of the four parts is named after an ochre colour), the women’s mostly earth-bound movement is gorgeously sensual and flowing. In Black, the men forcefully evoke hunting and conflict while White, the closing section, brings men and women together in ghostly serenity. The third section, Red, is more contemporary in feel and not all of it is compelling but a playful opening trio and wrenching closing duo make their mark.

It was thrilling to see dancer, songman and cultural adviser Djakapurra Munyarryun return as a guest artist. He was absolutely integral to Ochres’ success in 1994 and is still a figure of great authority. Senior company dancer Elma Kris shares his ability to encapsulate a world of meaning in a single gesture and this incarnation of Ochres used her luminous presence as a kind of bridge between past and present. Magic.

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