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BWW REVIEW: Guest Reviewer Kym Vaitiekus Shares His Thoughts On WUDJANG: NOT THE PAST


BWW REVIEW: Guest Reviewer Kym Vaitiekus Shares His Thoughts On WUDJANG: NOT THE PAST

Tuesday 18th January 2022, 7:30 pm, Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney.

WUDJANG: NOT THE PAST, this powerhouse performance signals an exciting future for the arts.

Bangarra Dance Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company, in their first co-production present the world premiere of WUDJANG: NOT THE PAST.

An epic scale contemporary corroboree, and Bangarra's largest stage production to date.

The commanding soundscape and music along with the wonderfully delicate and subtle lighting reveals a stage that harbours the rock of the earth and its inhabitants. Dominating the vista is the massive machinery, designed to gouge the earth.

Just before dawn, workmen find bones while excavating for a dam. Among the team is a Yugambeh man, Bilin (Kirk Page), who convinces his colleagues to let him keep the ancestral bones. This ancestor is Wudjang (Elma Kris), who longs to be reburied the proper way. With her young companion spirit, Gurai (Lillian Banks), she dances and teaches and sings of the past, of the earth, of song lines. With grace and authentic power, a new generation is taught how to listen, learn and carry their ancestral energy into the future. Wudjang: Not the Past follows the journey to honour Wudjang with a traditional resting place on Country.

Bangarra Artistic Director, Stephen Page said: "How is culture and knowledge being passed on from generation to generation? How are today's young people from assimilated communities living with or without ceremonial knowledge? There's a large conversation right now about sharing knowledge among First Nation's People, a continual conversation going on in our back yard. Wudjang: Not the Past is about reclaiming our stories and carrying the Wudjang spirit forward for the next generation".

BWW REVIEW: Guest Reviewer Kym Vaitiekus Shares His Thoughts On WUDJANG: NOT THE PAST

The performance explores a journey of First Nation's people. Their connection to their culture and past. The traumas experienced, the clash and invasion of colonialism. It also presents the passion in learning to open up to "deep knowledge - sacred, stirring and scalding, to cleansing us of excuses and impatience and to sit quietly on Country, united in hope."

Page directs and choreographs a superb co- production that expertly combines seventeen dancers, four musicians and five actors. It has the delicacy of an intimate dance troupe along with the commanding presence of major stagecraft. He has almost created a new theatre genre. The final scene of 'Regeneration' has the energy of a large-scale musical opera, yet it retains a unique grounded essence.

Steve Francis's composition is phenomenal. From the haunting and intricate soundscapes to the beautiful and engaging songs. Francis' music sets the mise en scene perfectly throughout the various scenarios. It explores the tender and the traumatic. Intertwined so wonderfully are the beautiful songs and ballads that are instantly engaging.

Jacob Nash's set design is both elegant and brutal. It retains the sense of earth and Country along with invasive industrialism. Nash has devised many clever and inventive elements that support and enhance the story telling.

Nick Schlieper's lighting design is superb. He pushes the range of light levels, that an eye can capture, to its maximum, and with aplomb. Schlieper's finesse and expertise is part of the story telling. The intense opening required total blackout, even the exit lights were briefly dimmed, it's a shame the light from the control box bounced onto the stage. This did not distract from the eventful night that Schlieper's design was so much a part of.

Elma Kris's Wudjang is honest and grounded. Her earnest and intensity is palpable. Elaine Crombie, as Maren, has a voice that is soulful and imposing. Her performance in the scene 'Carrying Trauma' is the standout. It explicitly portrays the agony and angst of the First Nations people. Jess Hitchcock is a song bird, her joy and harmonious voice is delicate and demanding. Justin Smith's commanding voice and performance perfectly suited the roles of Duggai/Wheeler.

BWW REVIEW: Guest Reviewer Kym Vaitiekus Shares His Thoughts On WUDJANG: NOT THE PAST

I'm glad I had a program, with a synopsis, that gave insight into the various scenes presented. There were moments when the intention was not clear. The collaboration of the dancers, actors and musicians was working, yet the drama didn't convey. In other scenes, where the emotion was on point, one felt incredibly connected.

The performance featured the Mibinyah language from Page's home on Yugambeh Country. This is combined with English poems, storytelling and songs.

The dancers portrayed Page's choreography with raw passion and energy. There were traditional modern dance moves along with inventive body movements. The company excelled in the corrobboree scenes. These were compelling and eventful.

Steven Page has created a new work, that not only combines dancers, actors and musicians but also uses his native tongue. The gem is that the essence of the performance conveys a sense of the language of the First Nation's people.

As we move forward to a greater understanding of cultures other than our own, this production works towards closing that gap. It does this in the traditional sense of telling a story through a performance event, but this piece also speaks to us in the unique tone and sensibility of Page's indigenous background. This creates not only an engaging production but an important work of art.

In the current climate it's wonderful to attend the superb Roslyn Packer to see a live event. Others have the chance as the production goes on tour.


19 January - 12 February 2022 - Rosyln Packer Theatre, Sydney

18 - 19 February 2022 - Theatre Royal, Hobart

15 - 18 March 2022 - Adelaide Festival Centre


BWW REVIEW: Guest Reviewer Kym Vaitiekus Shares His Thoughts On WUDJANG: NOT THE PAST

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