MiNDFOOD Reviews: ‘SandSong; Stories from the Great Sandy Desert’

By Gill Canning

MiNDFOOD Reviews: ‘SandSong; Stories from the Great Sandy Desert’
Bangarra Dance Theatre's new show takes you to the homelands of the Walmajarri people.

Bangarra Dance Theatre was founded in 1989 as a modern dance company featuring dancers from Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander background. In the 32 years since then, it has built a deserved international reputation as Australia’s premier performing arts company, bringing the stories of Australia’s First Nations people to the stage and to a wider audience. 

Bangarra’s new show, SandSong: Stories from the Great Sandy Desert, is set in the Kimberley, in the homelands of the Walmajarri people, where the ancient knowledge of People and of Country is preserved through Songlines that have endured for hundreds of generations.

SandSong begins with a visual depiction of Aboriginal history since British settlement. The opening images are confronting, depicting ‘Terra Nullius’ – meaning ‘nobody’s land’ – the justification given by the British for taking possession of the country. We see Indigenous people in chains, accompanied by jarring discordant music and statistics about disproportionately high rates of imprisonment and deaths in custody. 

Once the curtain is raised, it reveals a gorgeous red and gold backdrop against which the story is played. The dances of SandSong depicts the ‘seasons’ of the Great Sandy Desert – Makurra (cold, dry season); Parranga (hot, dry season that is usually for hunting but that is displaced this year when the colonisers arrive), Kartiya (when the men and women are forcibly taken from their homes to work as labourers and domestics for the colonisers) and Yitilala (wet season, when the people ultimately withstand oppression, displacement and upheaval to endure together, ready for the seasons to recommence).  

Imaginatively and movingly choreographed by Stephen Page, Frances Rings and the dancers themselves, SandSong vividly depicts the unique story of this Place and the survival of its People. It is described as “a gift back to the people of the Kimberley who bore some of the darkest moments of our nation’s history, yet today stand strong, proud and resilient in their cultural governance, a testament to the survival of our First Nations Peoples across Australia”. 

SandSong: Stories from the Great Sandy Desert
National Tour (Sydney, Canberra, Bendigo, Brisbane, Melbourne)
June – September 2021


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