Bangarra Dance Theatre

The Canberra Theatre Centre. 14 Sep 2012

Lake Eyre, known as Kati Thanda to the Arabunna traditional owners, most often lies dry and dormant in the heart of the continent. However, a handful of times each century torrential floods from the north deliver precious water to the parched landscape, bringing the furthest corners of this former inland sea back to glorious life – with Australians recently privileged to see such an event during these past few years.

To the Arabunna, Kati Thanda is an integral part of their living history that dates back thousands of years, and in May this year after a 14-year legal battle, they won a native title agreement over 69,000 square kilometres of land that includes the sacred site of the lake.

Terrain is a creative exploration and celebration of this connection to country and the natural cycles of Kati Thanda, with the process of creating this production involving extensive field research by its choreographer, Frances Ring. Through the help of Arabunna elder, Reginald Dodd, Ring learned much about the significance of Kati Thanda to his people and their roles as custodians of the land, turning this knowledge into the visual splendour that is Terrain.

Set to a stirring soundtrack by David Page that is subtly interspersed with natural sounds emanating from Kati Thanda and land rights chants, Terrain incorporates Indigenous instrumentals within a melange of contemporary music.

The show begins with a stark white urban setting, with Terrain’s dancers answering an ancestral Calling to Country that subsequently leads them through a symbolic re-enactment of land, lore and custom as well as the recent political history surrounding this natural marvel.

The choreography by Ring is intricate, intriguing and at times beautifully surreal, with a very natural, continuous flow between the each story. Like the natural environment, there are so many different elements of the choreography in Terrain working alongside each other, in different yet complementary ways that make up one system that is essentially harmonious. 

Both technically accomplished and gifted in artistic expression, the Bangarra dancers themselves are positively mesmerising - making even the most distorted of movements seem elegant. Navigating complex interweaving sequences seamlessly, they interpret each movement with great purpose and precision – displaying a committed presence and connection to the moment.

Central to Terrain are the stunning, swiftly changing sets that are directly inspired from designer Jacob Nash’s visit with Frances Ring to Lake Eyre in 2011, when the waters there were slowly beginning to recede but were still a vision to behold. From dramatic to earthy and tranquil, they reflect the many moods of the lake system and it’s ongoing evolution that’s etched in the landscape.

Equally, the bold, diverse and striking range of costuming by Jennifer Irwin, inspired by the ever-changing surrounds of Kati Thanda, is a perfect accompaniment to Nash’s extraordinary set design, changing tones dramatically from one act to the next, and providing an unforgettably vibrant flourish to the finale.

Terrain is an insight into the spirit of Kati Thanda, as seen by it traditional owners and interpreted by Bangarra. It provides a rare and privileged perspective to the public on this remarkable part of the country, bringing to light its timeless beauty, history and meaning that lies beneath the surface even when it seems all life has disappeared. It’s a very topical theme that I’m sure would have a wide appeal to the Australian public, some who are no doubt waiting in hope for the rains to bring this lake to life once more during their lifetime.

Deborah Hawke


When: Closed

Where: Canberra Theatre Centre

Bookings: Closed