Bangarra’s Lore flicks the switch from warm to cool

On the opening night of Bangarra Dance Theatre’s new double bill, Lore, the comfort factor for the audience in the Sydney Opera House’s Drama Theatre switched from cosy to cool.

The self regulating air con reflected aspects of the two works.

The first piece, I.B.I.S, set in the Torres Strait Islands, expressed warmth, joy and optimism, while the second, Sheoak, indicated suffering, aggression and loss.

From a programming point of view, the two pieces might have been better reversed, with the contemplative first and the uplifting second.

Despite the differences, Lore was linked by two important aspects – the impressive input of Jennifer Irwin’s costumes for both works, and the double bill’s emphasis on choreographers and dancers from the Torres Strait Islands, in particular the dancer, Elma Kris, whose presence anchored Lore and who opened both pieces.

Kris was the first on the stage in I.B.I.S., mop in hand and wearing a floral print dress, as she swirled across the stage to the song, You Are My Sunshine.

Behind her was a hanging shelf of household products, among them Baby Love nappies, Special K and Jatz, all basic items crammed into the corner stores of mainland Australian towns and cities, just as they are in the stores of I.B.I.S (Islander Board of Industry and Services) in the Torres Strait Islands.

This simple setting was the springboard for a sequence of charming dance portraits depicting life in the islands and danced to an exhilarating, percussive score enhanced by the clacking of wire shopping baskets, the clapping of hands and the stamping of feet.

The choreographers, Deborah Brown and Waangenga Blanco, led the ensemble whose ranks included Yolanda Lowatta, a promising new Bangarra dancer.

The ensembles were always the star turns of I.B.I.S. The men’s ensemble, Stalking, and the women’s ensemble, titled Cool Down, were the backbones of the piece.

Cool Down was not so much cool as it was hot – as in ‘too darned hot” – when the women sighed, fanned themselves and rolled their hips as they posed in silhouette in front of six window frames.

I.B.I.S might well have ended with the penultimate scene, when Kris waved the partying entire ensemble goodbye, but instead, a finale brought them all back on stage in a dance that was more a concert performance than it was a narrative night time conclusion to a joyful day.

Irwin’s costumes for I.B.I.S. were appealing but her designs for Sheoak were more intricate, intriguing and powerful.

The women in Sheoak first appeared in black bodysuits with the suggestion of white ribs and sternums painted in white. Later, a stunning and sculptural shroud-like costume in white, framed around the edges with a rim of tiny lights, appeared to dance by itself until the dancers finally emerged from the fabric.

In her program notes, Rings wrote that Sheoak began with the design concept, and the emphasis on this aspect of the collaboration was very clear.

For me, the enchanting imagery of Sheoak was much more powerful than the rather repetitive elements of the choreography, with the result that Sheoak from an audience perspective was cooler and more remote than the joyfulness of I.B.I.S.

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I.B.I.S, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Waangenga Blanco, Yolanda Lowatta and Tara Gower, photo © Jeff Tan

I.B.I.S, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Deborah Brown and Waangenga Blanco, photo © Jeff Tan

Sheoak, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Elma Kris and ensemble, photo © Jeff Tan

Sheoak, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Elma Kris and ensemble, photo © Lisa Tomasetti