Described as a ‘hymn to country’, Bangarra Dance Theatre’s latest work, Terrain, will transport audiences to Australia’s vast inland sea, Lake Eyre.
It’s one of the few untouched natural waterways in the world, and as composer David Page found when he, choreographer Frances Rings and set designer Jacob Nash travelled to the region for a research trip, it’s a long way from inner-city Sydney.
“We stayed for four days in a town called Marree, and it was like being transported back to the 1940s — there are still old trucks and other relics on the side of the road that have been left there for decades,” Page told the Star Observer.
“We stayed at the local pub, and it was me, Jacob and Frannie, rocking up like city slickers with our nice clothes on. The old guy behind the bar goes, ‘What the fuck do we have here?’.
“It was like a scene out of a movie — ‘Who are these flash blacks?’,” he laughed.
The trio explored the vast expanse of Lake Eyre under the guidance of a local Aboriginal elder, with the desolate landscape strongly influencing the look, feel and sound of Terrain.
“The work’s quite abstract. I’ve written a piece called Spinifex about the occasional signs of life you see. Frannie’s turned these women [dancers] into trees that come to life, and I’ve used piano and a string quartet to bring out that female beauty,” he said.
“People often ask me if the music or the choreography comes first, but to be honest, we go back and forth with each other. It works itself out quite organically.
“I try not to analyse the process too much, because when I get too analytical, it all falls apart.”
Which must make the interview process somewhat trying, but Page admitted he was glad of a break from his music room.
“It’s very much a 9 to 5 job, but with days where I sit in the studio for a whole day and get to the end and go ‘Fuck, I’ve got nothing’,” he sighed.
“That’s when you need to take a break and get some creative inspiration.”
Lake Eyre’s ecosystem shifts between rainy and dry seasons, and as Page explained, water doesn’t automatically equal life — the fish that get flushed down to the lake in the rainy season only survive about a week before the lake’s high salt content kills them.
As Terrain’s press notes so eloquently put it, “Nature delivers in abundance, promises all, but guarantees nothing”.
“In our work we’re always trying to remind people that this place [Australia] is very special, and this land has a long history,” Page said.
“That’s the core of Aboriginal culture, and I think people really embrace that now — that the land is important and it looks after us. We don’t control it, it controls us, so we have to respect it.”
INFO: Terrain, Melbourne Arts Centre June 29 – July 7, Sydney Opera House July 18 – August 18. Further tour dates at www.bangarra.com.au