Up in the sky there is a giant emu. They have been there all along, in the calendar in the sky. Above our heads, a creator spirit, their long form stretches in the dust clouds of the Milky Way from the Coalsack to beyond Scorpius.2And this is where Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Dark Emu begins. Looking up. Connected. Looking back. Connected. Looking forward. Connected. Like the emu detectable in the night sky, which has been there all along.
Defined not by stars, but by the dark smudges in between. If this were a drawing, we’d say the emu was there in the negative space, in the background. And if this were a dance, which it is, we’d say this is where it begins, and, being cyclical, where it will pass by again as it continues its rotation. Reading the form mapped between the stars: a whole new world opens up before my eyes. Moreover, if this were life, which it most certainly is, we’d say, as expressed by Yolande Brown, one of the choreographers of Dark Emu, together with director Stephen Page, Daniel Riley, and the dancers of Bangarra, “these are stories, ideas and practices we should all be able to access, learn from and respect…. As Australians awaken from a kind of collective amnesia”, Dark Emu is the conversation we need to have, the story we need to be told, the relearning that needs to occur.
“The Emu, as seen by the Kamilaroi and Euahlayi, changed in position from season to season, as the Milky Way containing the Emu changed position in the night sky. As the Emu changes position, it alters in appearance, and that appearance has connections to cultural and resource matters”. Once you’ve spotted the emu, the sky cannot look the same afterwards. And this, in many ways is true of Dark Emu: Aboriginal Australia and the birth of agriculture, the 2014 seminal book by Bruce Pascoe, and the recent work, Dark Emu by Bangarra: once you read the true history, things cannot look the same. Both book and dance expose the hunter-gather label of colonialisation for the myth it indeed is. Both illuminate how pre-colonial Aboriginal people interacted with the land, and the interconnectedness of all things. Where the former is a book recounting “the success and achievements of Aboriginal Australia”, the latter is the beating heart, and though both are stand-alone works, they should be experienced as one. Or rather, reading one inspires you to see the other, and vice versa.
Light and dark, day and night, youth and maturity, a flirtation and redemption, naturalistic and ethereal: Giselle spins a conjuror’s trick all the wilier for its very familiarity, its everlasting allurement.
An autumnal village presented in Act I flips to reveal the ballet blanc of Act II: two halves of a whole. We know this, we anticipate this, we lap it up. Fermented in honey before interval, raising a flagon of mead to love, and even love’s folly, and unpinned madness, we heed the warnings spun to the villagers. The flipside to a light-hearted Peasant pas de deux is heartache and mourning. We are cognisant of the fact that when we return to our seats in the theatre, the scene will have changed. Light for dark. Day for night. Of the earth for beyond this realm. A village for the darkest forest floor of folkloric apparitions who demand you dance to your death. Raise your flagon of mead for raise your ghostly spirits, cloaked in a shawl spun by otherworldly spiders.
True to a magic trick, in the Australian Ballet’s 259th performance of Maina Gielgud’s production of Giselle: how is it that I had not really noticed Hilarion, a forester (gamekeeper) before? Giselle and Count Albrecht make a ballet classic, but Giselle and Hilarion could have made for a happier life. Against the backdrop of opposites, there appears a triangle. In magic, ballet, life, it appears. Unrequited love and anguish wears a beard in the form of Jarryd Madden, and his performance portends great things to come in Lucas Jervies’ Spartacus, to conclude the 2018 Melbourne season. On Tuesday night, Madden’s Hilarion is more than a narrative ploy to reveal Albrecht’s deception through identity as the finder-of-cloak-and-sword; he is more than a game-offering, unnoticed suitor in the woods; more than a warning that Myrtha and her glow of Willis mean business: you will dance to your death.
Thank you to all our contributing writers for their dedication, insight and passion. Writing about dance is no easy feat, and being a dance critic involves many sacrifices, and yet here we are—thinking, writing and reading about dance. So if it is a small miracle that we have such a brilliant cache of dance criticism evolving in today's messy world, it is in no small part due to our supportive, engaged readers—you—who are moved the possibilities of dance.
— Fjord Review
There is still time to see our artists' book, Paw Pad Path, on display as part of the 2018 Libris Awards: Australian Artists' Book Prize at Artspace Mackay. The exhibition, which opened on Saturday the 26th of May, runs until Sunday the 19th of August, 2018.
Artspace Mackay, Civic Centre Precinct, Gordon Street, Queensland
In May this year, French Connections commenced with a two-week study tour of Paris.
French Connections is part of an international project instigated and led by Anne Virgo OAM, Director of Australian Print Workshop, which aims to generate a significant body of work in the print medium.
We were thrilled to be invited, alongside two other artists, Martin Bell and Megan Cope, and now that we have returned, we are keen to make new work inspired by all the incredible material we saw, collections we explored, and places we scampered through.
But before we do, rewind to see the story so far,
French Connections, part 1
French Connections, part 2
French Connections, part 3
French Connections, part 4
French Connections, part 5
French Connections, part 6
French Connections, part 7
We’ve seen albatrosses come back with their belly full of food for their young. You think it’s going to be squid, but it’s plastic. That chick is going to starve and die.
— Sir David Attenborough (on plastic pollution)
Our seams and cracks, be they through physical injury or knocks to and aches of the heart, are markers of our lived experience, and through acceptance we can come to find meaning in them and appreciation: I am here, imperfect and all the stronger for it. As Christopher Rodgers-Wilson replaced metal ligatures for golden joinery on the stage, he was proof that “injury and rehabilitation can be enlightening in unlocking a new path forward and arming you with a stronger resolve and new found sense of appreciation for your dancing”. Mending is an art, and the essence of resilience.
In other moments, the “crack in everything” could be read in the lines separating two dancers from each other. Between Coco Mathieson and Callum Linnane, their ever-unfixed negative space created an even river line from head to toe. It appeared as if they were the one worn form in the landscape, cleaved in two by the passage of water and/or time: when one part of Mathieson was convex, Linnane’s neighbouring body was concave. Framed in white costumes, designed by Topp, with the dark stage behind them, it was the negative space they created which caught my eye, the background illuminating the foreground. Together, they made the space that let the light in, and it was breathtaking.
Elsewhere, this sensation was evoked in the space one dancer tried to fill when entwined with another. With a head tilted to one side and the opposite arm extended, a lovely long 'u' shape was drawn with the body, a lovely long 'u' shape for another to fill with their head lowered, their ear to the other’s shoulder. A shoulder for a pillow, an arm for support, an ear pressed close so as to hear, a meld of two as one, a perfect fit; the joint-call technique of kintsugi, where a similar shaped piece is used to replace the broken one. Each movement flowed into another, but always either filling the outline made by the other, or following the river bend of the other, but never crossing it, instead, shining a light through it. At times, Amanda McGuigan, Karen Nanasca, and Sharni Spencer rippled and sparkled like light as it sought to emblazon the darkness. Gold and darkness made splendid by staging and lighting design by Jon Buswell.