Bangarra Dance Theatre has been Australia’s premier Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dance company for nearly thirty years. Although the company includes dancers from every language grouping, it collaborates with specific traditional owners, depending on the particular works they are creating. This attention to specificity is an important part of Bangarra’s recognition of the different groupings across the Australian mainland and islands, and the islands of the Torres Strait. Led by Artistic Director Stephen Page, Bangarra draws on techniques that include traditional Indigenous dance as well as contemporary world techniques. The company’s works include Praying Mantis Dreaming, Ochres, Skin, Corroboree, Unaipon, CLAN, Mathinna, and Bennelong.
Dark Emu, which premièred in Sydney in June 2018, is based on Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu: Black seeds: Agriculture or accident? (2014). Pascoe’s book challenged persistent depictions of Indigenous Australians as hunter gatherers and nomads. This representation of Aboriginal people, which played an integral part in the colonial project, effectively denied Aboriginal ownership of and connection with the land, thereby justifying the notion of terra nullius. Despite the fact that scholarly studies and archaeological evidence have long disputed the label of hunter gatherers, the idea persisted in white Australia. Pascoe, whose book is aimed at a general readership, brings together numerous stories recorded by European explorers and settlers. They prove that, prior to European settlement, Aboriginal people across the continent were domesticating plants, sowing and harvesting crops, farming fish and eels, and managing the land.
Bangarra has created a dance piece to express some of these narratives in a physical and visceral dialogue between dance and text. In collaboration with the dancers, three choreographers – Stephen Page, Daniel Riley, Yolande Brown – offer a beautiful evocation of the living relationship between people and plants and the impact of colonisation.