Review: Spirit (Bangarra Dance Theatre/Canadian Stage/TO LIVE)

Bangarra Dance Theatre brought traditional Australian Aboriginal dance to Toronto

Bangarra Dance Theatre, one of Australia’s top dance companies, make their Toronto premiere with Spirit, performing a collection of stories and dances in a celebration of the Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander’s traditions. With mesmerizing movement and captivating physicality, the large seventeen member company take to the Bluma Appel Theatre, co-presented by Canadian Stage and TO Live.

Dusted in what appears to be white powder or paint, the dancers flock and float around the stage, resembling the brolga bird. Their wrists attach at the waist, elbows piercing out from their sides, creating wings, as they dive deep and snake back up articulating every inch of their spine. The first story is of a young girl’s journey through the brolga’s sacred grounds, led by a traditional spirit guide.

The program lists ten tales which seamlessly mesh together within the hour and twenty-minute work. Stories of moths, dingoes and other sacred and symbolic Aboriginal fables are presented through calming choreography and pleasant visuals. Although the choreography appears easy, it is not. The dancers have ease and flow to there movement, yet the choreography is technically taxing while remaining lively and limber. 

The pieces seem to become shorter as the work continues, ranging from duets, trios, all-female or all male ensembles thus making them even easier to consume. I found my notes of the performances seem to dwindle as I wanted to sit back and watch the beautiful production.

At one point, the smell of sage fills the audience. Sage is a sacred herb commonly used in Aboriginal ceremonies. I love that the fog present through the performance doesn’t appear to be from a smoke machine, rather the burning of traditional plants or through swatting the floor with handheld branches which lift the fallen dust from their bodies into the air. 

I appreciated the small details made to respect the space and content. An elder opens the performance reciting his poem titled ‘gifts to dance.’ Later a projection is presented with information about the Aboriginal people and company. The company’s name ‘Bangarra’ is a Wiradjuri word meaning “to make fire.” 

The artistic director of TO LIVE took to the stage prior to the performance to express his excitement for welcoming the company that he had so long wished to bring to Toronto. I am so glad he did. They are a beautiful company with meaningful work. I hope they come back soon.

Details

  • Spirit played at the Bluma Appel Theatre on November 8 and 9, 2019.
  • Keep updated on their website for more information and future performances from Bangarra Dance Theatre.

Photo by Zan Wimberley.

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