Published Sep 11, 2015The Bangarra Dance Theatre is an indigenous Australian contemporary dance company known for producing a roster of wildly creative and culturally vital full-length dance shows that have toured throughout Australia and the world. Stephen Page, the Artistic Director for its last 24 years, also directed the indigenous sections for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games' opening and closing ceremonies. He's also become increasingly involved in the film world, mostly through choreography, but also by directing one of the segments in the occasionally mesmerising compilation film, The Turning.
Spear, while primarily based on the Skin double-bill, also incorporates techniques and ideas from other Bangarra productions. It's a dance production utilizing cinematic techniques to heighten the narrative function of the story, which is, in a basic sense, an impressionist, metaphorical rite of passage for 21-year-old Djali (Hunter Page-Lochard), a young aboriginal man trying to reconcile his identity and interpret what it means to be a man living in a culture with a history of internal and external conflict.
Page is conscious to juxtapose the traditional with the modern and the natural with the manufactured. Dancers emerge from the land covered in mud, writhing in ecstasy and agony, hanging from above and rising from below. Their earthly roots are integrated into social initiations, as Djali witnesses peers demonstrate a fractured identity construct, the negative impression and representation of indigenous people and an overall Australian identity — as represented by a disturbingly disjointed rag doll group dance in a gymnasium — disconnected from his own.
And rather than simply film the many dance routines, each highly representative of the progressing, increasingly complex emotions being explored, Page uses lighting, staging and sound to reinforce the themes of the performance. Most of Spear is filmed in the shadows, which masks the dance stage beneath the otherwise deliberately stark sets. This aesthetic allows us to focus on the shaping of bodies and images as they flow through each tableau, seeing love, adulthood and battle through the eyes of a boy becoming a man as expressed through movement. There are also spoken word segments outlining issues of social conflict and substance abuse — and physical abuse — suffered within Djali's community, which acts as a backdrop for his intricately presented identity construct.
It's a fascinating cinematic experiment, fusing dance with the filmed image in a manner that considers both mediums. Page could benefit from more experience behind the camera to fully utilize additional techniques to highlight his melding of choreography and storytelling, but Spear demonstrates a welcome creative effort and continually evolving, eager to experiment, talent to watch. (LevelK)