Arts & Entertainment

NAIDOC WEEK REVIEW: Bangarra’s Sandsong – Stories from the Great Sandy Desert

Glory Tuohy-Daniell, Rika Hamaguchi and Lillian Banks, SandSong - Bangarra. Photo: Daniel Boud

With so many shows at the moment employing every new high-tech digital toy possible in their productions, it’s not only refreshing to see a more organic approach to performance, but it proves how superfluous most of those flashy elements can be. Bangarra’s Sandsong – Stories from the Great Sandy Desert delivers a stunning narrative dance with simple, minimalist elegance.

Sandsong tells stories from the Wangkatjungka and Walmajarri people of the Kimberley and Great Sandy Desert regions during a particularly harrowing time in recent history. From early to mid 1900s, Aboriginal people were removed from their land and forced to work on commercial properties in slave-like conditions. They endured extreme hardship, separation, and cultural suppression, but they still managed to preserve their songlines, kinship and stories.

Through a series of short dances, Sandsong presents anecdotes and tales that have been passed down by elders. Even without knowing the specific details of each story, it is easy to perceive contextually what is being depicted in each scene.

In an uninterrupted 80 minutes the dancers come on in various ensembles to perform a scene. The entire show feels seamless and is utterly captivating. The movements are at times fluid, graceful and at others, rigid, stoccato. The music is a fusion of traditional with contemporary, recorded Aboriginal singing and playing, a cattle auctioneer’s comically fast calling, folkish melodies and an ambient bed of synthy pads.

Bangarra ensemble, SandSong – Bangarra. Photo: Daniel Boud

A draped backdrop, painted in red, gold, yellow, and brown tones suggests the majestic walls of a Kimberley canyon. The stage is lit with sunset-like iridescence. The costumes have traditional elements mixed with abstract; sometimes being suggestive or European influence when the story requires.

Sandsong had a very brief debut season (thanks to COVID) in 2021 after already having been postponed from 2020. Thankfully, it is now on stage in its full glory and is an absolute must see.

Until July 23. Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point. $49-$109+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.sydneyoperahouse.com

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