Bangarra’s new terrain
Bangarra is one of Australia’s premier dance theatre companies. For over two decades they have been creating innovative works that have continued to inspire and captivate audiences in Australia and overseas. Choreographer Frances Rings has been with the company since 1993. In the middle of rehearsals for her new show, Terrain, she took some time out to speak with Rachel Cook.
How did dance start for you, what’s your earliest memories?
I grew up in the country in a little town in South Australia called Port Augusta. My dad says that I was about five when I started dancing around and creating little pieces, dressing my sisters up and bossing them around. I guess kids just create a world where they can better understand what’s happening around them or cope better. I think that was one of those things for me. We struggled, it was a big family and not a lot of money, but then again I was happy growing up and the Flinders Ranges were my backyard.
So, what then led to dance becoming your career?
I wanted to study ballet but we couldn’t afford that, but the great thing was when I turned 16 they had introduced dance as a HSC [Higher School Certificate] when I was in high school and that was my first opportunity to receive some formal training in dance. Then I heard about this place in Sydney where Indigenous students could come and study formal dance and also do cultural studies in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders traditional dance, that was NAISDA [National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association] Dance college.
How did you come to join Bangarra?
Stephen [Page, Bangarra’s artistic director] invited me to join after NAISDA and my career path was sort of set from there.
For dancers 16 would be considered starting late, did you see any barriers then for you, or was it in some way advantageous?
I was disappointed when I discovered it was way too late to study ballet, but then I was introduced to this completely new area of dance and these cultural styles that all sort of merged into this one particular form that is this Indigenous contemporary style of dance that Bangarra has honed and crafted. It was exciting to be in that wave of discovery in the early years of Bangarra.
What was the transition from dancer to choreographer like, was it a natural progression?
When you work with dancers who have their own way of informing movement or their own particular language or dialogue of translating what you want, you can tell they are creators. I think Stephen saw that in me and thought, oh this one, let’s let her get it out of her system! So, he gave me a studio and now this is my seventh work with the company.
Let’s talk about your new work Terrain and what inspired it?
I just love the idea of being able to translate what is so unique in Australia and what we have in this country. I went out to Lake Eyre and the thing about that unique, abstract landscape is it’s a very evocative, very emotional landscape. It’s been through so many different lives. It was once an ocean, it was once a rainforest, and all of those scars are etched into its surface and you can feel that, it resonates. When that lake is full of water it is just the most spectacular thing you have ever seen.
Can you talk about the notion of landscape becoming a second skin?
Yeah sure, I believe that with a lot of Indigenous people, and of course I speak from an Aboriginal perspective, there is a connection to country. You might live in an urban scape but your connection to country is very close to you. It’s the way you hold yourself, it’s the way you interact with your environment. You have Aboriginal people from the desert, from rainforest country, salt water, fresh water and they are the elements that you carry with you that are particular to the way that you live your life. It’s about honouring that.
When you’re devising these works for Bangarra how much do traditional stories come through or seep in?
There’s always cultural themes that are part of the work and they are then interpreted into a contemporary context. It is about the meeting of the past and the present that informs what that dialogue is.
Bangarra has been going for over 20 years now, how has it changed in that time?
It’s changed a lot. What’s exciting now is that there is the new generation of dancers coming through and the ways that they express the choreography brings a new way of moving and they come with a different set of skills. There’s a new injection of energy, but we always want to look at where our place in the landscape of arts in Australia and our role as cultural ambassadors is.
What do you want to achieve with your work?
It’s about making sure that our stories are told and that they are told in the right way, and hopefully non-indigenous people come away with a different perspective on who we are and an awareness of who we are today.
Terrain June 29 – July 7 The Arts Centre, 100 St Kilda Road Southbank, Melbourne
Image: Greg Barret