Review: Bangarra Dance Theatre's Yuldea @ Arts Centre Melbourne

Our eclectic team of writers from around Australia – and a couple beyond – with decades of combined experience and interest in all fields.

What a privilege to see Artistic Director Frances Rings' soulful production of 'Yuldea' so close to the Voice Referendum.

'Yuldea' is alive with movement and rich with story. It is desolate. It is hopeful. It is a powerful, breathing testament to an important moment in Australian history that displaced and harmed many First Nations people – yet it is full of beauty and tells the story of their unending love for country and for each other in the face of colonisation, injustice and vast changes to their homeland.

Set in four acts, this tale is told in dance and narrative. From a Letters Patent in 1836 from King William IV guaranteeing “the rights of ‘any Aboriginal natives’ or their descendants to lands they now actually occupied or enjoyed”, to the 1912 construction of the Trans-Australian Railway.

These works devastated the sacred site of the Ooldea Soak (where Aboriginal people had found their water for thousands of years) to the point that it was bone dry. So the people dispersed.

Some were sent to Christian missions. Some lost their mothers and kin that way. The Missions promised Salvation, and not much else.

Some went to the railway to trade their art or the little belongings they still possessed for survival. The railway brought alcohol and disease to the people, and not much else.

Then came the atomic testing in 1956 and the black mist, brilliantly evoked in Elizabeth Gadsby’s deliberately minimal set design. The entire production is immersed in a smoky haze, which whispers a nightmare Dream Time for viewers, descending into the darkness of The Soak drying up, the nuclear testing and the displacement. The lone and continuous lit object on stage changes shape, sometimes it’s a boomerang, sometimes it’s lightning or an atomic test and sometimes it’s a Supernova or a Water Divining device.

The dancers are all flawless, graceful and athletic and each one stands out according to their part in this epic tale. Some are birds, some are dingoes, and some inhabit the stage in human form. Courtney Radford and Jesse Murray are particularly impressive on this night, but the whole cast is fantastic.

The music is bold when it wants to be and supremely tender at other times, made by Leon Rodgers and Electric Fields. Both of those forces propel this work into full flight.

In the final act of this production there is great hope, love and healing. It is incredibly moving and uplifting. The sheer strength of this production will awe you.

See it.

Words: Karen Conrad

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