Frances in the Zone

To be “in the zone” means total immersion in the moment, as in “going with the flow”. But, for fans of the classic film, Stalker, it conjures up a another place.

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky and released in 1979, the film tells the story of two middle aged men who embark on a journey to find the Zone – a mysterious room – where they believe they will find absolute happiness.

It’s a slow but gripping story that entranced the English author, Geoff Dyer whose new book, Zona is subtitled “A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room”.

The subject and title might seem tedious, but Dyer uses the film as a springboard to jump in many fascinating, outlandish and unexpected directions as he examines his own life and his own desires, thwarted or not.

What makes the book so addictive is the way in which any reader can identify with Dyer’s frustration – the Zone is a maddeningly elusive state of being – and we may just as well find it in our home country as on any journey.

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s new production, Terrain, brought the Zone to mind as the choreographer, Frances Rings, has talked of her connection to South Australia, her home state, and its vast waterway, Lake Eyre, and how country – your landscape – gives you strength.

Rings was born in Adelaide, but in Terrain, her zone is Lake Eyre, the largest lake in Australia, and one that seldom fills with water. It looks like a salt-pan when empty, but when it floods, it seems like a mirage.

Rings has immersed herself in the history and geography of Lake Eyre. The challenge is to keep the audience enmeshed in the same way.

For the main part, she succeeds. The narrative thread begins with the way in which memories of the ancestral land call to the present generation. Then, in eight different segments, Terrain touches on the struggle for land rights, the passing down of customs, the appearance of the trees, the white salt vastness, the scarring of the land, its rejuvenation, the land’s relationship with the horizon and finally, the waters that flood the lake.

One story stands out as the most imaginative and vivid. Called Spinifex, it’s danced by a group of six representing watchful spirit women. Rings’ beautiful choreography for the women includes tiny, rotating movements of the feet, serpentine patterns, swaying hips and a serene manner that seems to represent both patience and pride.

Their bodices appear like bark, their skirts falls from yellowy-gold into pale grey, scattered with holes, and long twigs emerge from the front of their hairline, adding to the elegance of the whole.

These costumes could easily be part of a fashion show if the designer, Jennifer Irwin, ever felt inclined to take her talent to the runway. In fact all of Irwin’s textural costume designs for Terrain are fascinating, perhaps her best ever.

In the penultimate segment, Reflect, Deborah Brown wears a feathery grey dress that helps put her eloquent back into focus in a duet with Leonard Mickelo.

The 14 dancers in Terrain appear mainly in small ensembles of five to seven dancers, in which Rings often has them clustered in a grouping resembling the sturdy, visible roots of a tree, with one dancer held aloft.

David Page has used strings, electronic music and voice within his score but the overall lush orchestration seems at odds with the the “less is more” aspect of Terrain, including Jacob Nash’s minimalist but effective backdrops representing the spirit below the surface of Lake Eyre as it changes through times and seasons.

In one of the few solos in Terrain, Elma Kris, shows once again her charismatic presence on stage and when she dances I believe every audience member can sense that she is definitely in the zone.

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