18 July 2022

Terrain's 10 years of powerful dance connects to Country

| Emma Batchelor
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dancers on stage performing Terrain

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Terrain hits the stage for the 10th year. Photo: Daniel Boud.

A groundbreaking, multi-award winning work of contemporary dance by Australia’s leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performing arts company has entered its 10th year.

In 2012, Terrain became the first full-length work choreographed by Bangarra Dance Theatre’s associate artistic director, Frances Rings. This year it is being remounted as part of a special tour to Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane.

The work forms a creative response to Kati Thanda (Lake Eyre) in South Australia, home of the Arabunna people who have maintained their deep connection with the basin for thousands of years.

Arabunna Elder, Reginald Dodd, has worked with the company to share stories about how Kati Thanda survived and thrived through its dramatic natural cycles of flood, drought and everything in between.

dancers on stage performing Terrain

The work forms a creative response to Kati Thanda (Lake Eyre) in South Australia. Photo: Daniel Boud.

Told in 65 minutes through nine sections or “states of experiencing”, Terrain offers homage to Country; one where days are measured by the length of shadows, or when the afternoon clouds roll in. One where months are marked by the level of salt crust on the surface of the lake. Where the rise and fall of waters, the sweep of ancient river systems, transforming the desert and bringing new life, indicate the passage of years.

Frances, who next year takes over from Stephen Page as the theatre’s artistic director, is excited to bring a new season of Terrain to life for audiences.

“The inspiration for Terrain is as enduring today as it was when it was created 10 years ago,” she says. “I look forward to staging Terrain with a new generation of young artists and sharing the rich cultural and geographical wonder that is Kati Thanda.”

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One of the new generation of dancers, Ryan Pearson, came to Bangarra through the NSW Public Schools’ Aboriginal Dance Company and NAISDA Dance College, an important pipeline that unearths and cultivates the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performers.

Ryan underlines the sense of collaboration Frances has fostered through the process of remounting Terrain.

“Fran really wants to make sure the story is told through the lens of the performers as well as through the story itself. It’s a really beautiful part of working with Bangarra.”

dancer on stage performing Terrain

Each dancer brings their own experiences, culture and connection to Country. Photo: Daniel Boud.

Ryan, who first saw Terrain in a 2016 remount while a student at NAISDA, says while some things change through the years, others remain the same.

“We want to embody the power and strength of the original work from 2012 and ensure we carry the story forward into the performance we have created in 2022,” he says.

So Terrain becomes a living, breathing piece of work that changes and adapts depending on its performers. Each dancer brings to the story and terrain of Kati Thanda their own experiences, culture and connection to Country. It makes the new, remounted version as fresh and vital as the original.

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In addition to the powerful choreography and performances, Terrain features the work of outstanding creative talent: a score by David Page, sets by Jacob Nash, costumes by Jennifer Irwin’s and lighting by Karen Norris. There is something otherworldly, almost fantastical about the atmosphere these production elements add to the performance.

“From a dancer’s perspective, I love that the sets mean every part of our body is on show. We are performing 100 per cent of the time,” Ryan says.

“In a personal sense, I find the costumes and sets provide a form of escapism. At Bangarra we talk about being grounded and being a part of the Earth. However I often find myself being lost in a dreamscape when being a part of this work.”

After its acclaimed world premiere season, Terrain went on to win two Helpmann awards, including Best Ballet/Dance Work, and is now a text for the HSC Dance curriculum in NSW.

The upcoming season at the Canberra Theatre Centre provides audiences a rare opportunity to experience for the first time or revisit a landmark piece of theatre and connect with our country through dance.

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Terrain runs from 28 to 30 July at Canberra Theatre Centre.

Tickets $79 to $99.* Book here

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