Bangarra's new work is ambitious in scale and intent.

Bangarra Dance Theatre's Bennelong. Photo by Vishal Pandey.

Bennelong, the new work from Bangarra Dance Theatre is ambitious in scale and intent. It stands as a powerful re-imagining of the life of the Wongal man Woollarawarra Bennelong (1764 -1813).

The show’s Dramaturg, Alana Valentine, writes that while this historical figure is hotly contested, what is known is that he was a revered ancestor, who lived, walked, and fished and had a sacred custodial relationship to the land. In 1798, Bennelong was snatched while fishing and kept in chains in the early settlement. He later travelled to England with Governor Phillip in 1792.

Valentine writes that this new dance work is ‘conjuring’ Bennelong and is only loosely biographical. The work also delves into some of the intersections of traditional Indigenous culture with European culture that are embodied in the life of Bennelong, which still resonate in the lives of First Nations’ people today.

The work is episodic in nature and, as such, Beau Dean Riley Smith as Bennelong is a vital presence that provides a coherent and cohesive link throughout the work.

Jacob Nash, a talented young Indigenous designer who previously designed the show earth and sky for Bangarra and was Specialist Production Designer for the television series Cleverman, has created some extraordinary, truly memorable images for this show. Standout moments include the circular smoke-filled form at the beginning of the show, which floats in mid-space, and gives a timeless, almost planetary, feel to the dance space.

Tara Robertson, Kaine Sultan-Babij, Beau Dean Riley Smith in Bennelong. Photo by Daniel Boud.

The other wonderful image is a square smoke-filled portal leading into a space of smallpox, grieving and death – a potent dream-like element which creates a unique and powerful space for the dancers to move through. Elma Kris, in this scene, was truly extraordinary. Kris' presence is commanding and moving. She brings stature and emotional resonance to every moment she is on stage.

The choreography from Stephen Page gives all the  dancers a chance to shine. The cast is a joy to watch with outstanding committed dancing from every single performer. The company now contains some of  the best contemporary dancers in Australia.

Bennelong received a prolonged standing ovation from the audience.

Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5

Bangarra Dance Theatre
Choreography: Stephen Page
Music: Steve Francis
Dramaturg: Alana Valentine
Set Design: Jacob Nash
Costume Design: Jennifer Irwin
Lighting Design: Nick Schlieper
Rehearsal Director: Anton
Cultural Consultant: Matt

29 June-29 July: Sydney Opera House
3-5 August: Canberra Theatre Center
25 August-2 September: QPAC Brisbane
7-16 September: Arts Centre Melbourne


Katie Lavers

Monday 3 July, 2017

About the author

Dr. Katie Lavers is a writer, director, producer and researcher based in Sydney.