Review: Bangarra Dance Theatre Company’s Bennelong is emotional, heartbreaking and utterly significant (Sydney Opera House until 29 July 2017)

Choreographed by Stephen Page, Bennelong by the Bangarra Dance Theatre Company, articulates the story of Wollarawarre Bennelong, an Eora man who was kidnaped by Governor Phillip in 1789 and forced to live in the colonies. Taken back to England, Bennelong learnt to speak English and was held up as an example of the relationship between white settlers and the Indigenous people of Australia. His life seemed plagued by sadness and displacement, not belonging in the colonies but also seemingly out of place within the Eora people.

Bennelong steps us through his epic story, from the time of his birth, through the arrival of the First Fleet, his kidnapping and trip to England, his return to Australia and ultimately his death. Told through movement and a brilliant score (Steve Francis), the work is utterly captivating. The simple set design ensures the focus remains on the movement which is fluid and seamless. Clever lighting  (Nick Schlieper) plays and bounces off every muscle and highlights the sheer strength of the performers.

One scene in particular involving a beaded curtain backdrop on which the performers are projected, is spectacular. The set design (Jacob Nash) and costumes (Jennifer Irwin) deserve praise, as they tell a story all on their own. If I had to choose just one word to sum up Bennelong it would be mesmerising. Completely and wholly mesmerising. I was unable to tear my eyes from the stage.

It’s impossible to single any one performer out as exceptional. Each dancer was absolutely stunning, executing their parts to perfection. By the conclusion of the performance you truly feel as if you have been taken on a journey. It’s emotional and heartbreaking, but utterly significant.

For more information and to purchase tickets, head to the Bangarra website. It will be performed at the Sydney Opera House until 29th July 2017. The writer attended the performance on 29th June.

Photo by Daniel Boud.


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