Bangarra Dance Theatre
Bangarra Dance Theatre is a successful Aboriginal performing arts company fusing Aboriginal culture with contemporary dance.Their performances have excited audiences worldwide.
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About Bangarra Dance Theatre
We dance when there's a big ceremony like an initiation ceremony…, we dance when there's a death in the family. We celebrate life and death through dance.— Kathy Balngayngu Marika, Aboriginal elder and Bangarra Dance Theatre dancer 
Bangarra Dance Theatre is one of Australia's most successful Aboriginal performing arts companies, fusing Aboriginal culture with contemporary dance. Carole Johnson, an African-American arts administrator who came to Australia in 1972, founded Bangarra in 1989.  'Bangarra' means 'to make fire' in the Wiradjuri language of south-east Australia and is reflected in the company's logo (see image).
Stephen Page danced with the Sydney Dance Company before being appointed Bangarra's artistic director in 1991. As a choreographer he also created more than 12 new works for the company and five for the Australian Ballet. He choreographed the 2009 film Bran Nue Dae. He handed over his role as director to Frances Rings in 2023.
David Page, Stephen's brother, was for a long time the musical heartbeat of Bangarra, composing scores for 27 of the company’s major works. His style was a modern mix of traditional language, song and instrumentation with the sounds of electronica, hip-hop, classical and nature. David had a talent for giving voice to country and to land that could awaken emotions from deep within. He also contributed the scores to numerous Aboriginal movies. He died unexpectedly on 29 April 2016, aged only 55.
Frances Rings, a Kokatha woman of German descent, has been with Bangarra since 1993 with a 14-year break from 2005. She started as a dancer, then became the contemporary dance company's choreographer. She moved on from Bangarra in 2005 to work as a freelance choreographer in Australia and the United States but returned in 2019. In 2023 she succeeded Stephen Page as director of the company.
"I love that dance has a healing quality. The most tragic stories can become something beautiful," Rings says.  "At Bangarra, I love that the dance is not shoving things down your throat saying, 'Yeah, you white people have done this and that'. Instead it's saying we've got this amazing, beautiful culture here. We've had social issues, we've had genocide, we've had these things happen to us but look at what we have now. We can tell our stories with the majesty and poetry that the best dance can deliver and through a contemporary dance language that also holds the traces of a culture that is thousands of years old.
"I can see we have a responsibility to these stories and every time we perform them and pass these stories on, it changes people's lives.
"When you sit down and see a Bangarra show, you don't realise you've just been given a 50-minute history lesson, you just feel like you've been taken on a journey and it comes back to you in waves... You remember things from the show when you're making a cup of tea the next day."
Being a student
Bangarra performers study classical ballet, contemporary dance, Pilates and yoga. They also have traditional dance with a focus on repetition and movement in the legs and core. 
For each new Aboriginal dance Bangarra spends time with a cultural consultant to ensure the movements are performed the traditional way. 
Once a year students visit rural Aboriginal communities. Apart from giving free workshops and performances it is an opportunity for them to learn the "living culture" where the language, dance and stories Bangarra takes inspiration from are still alive. This is especially important for younger students who don't know much about their culture and struggle to connect. 
The company has 15 dancers who come from all over Australia, reflecting many Aboriginal cultures. 70% of its 34 full-time staff are of Aboriginal descent. 
Dance doesn't always have to be a high octane bash-and-bang performance. It's also about subtlety.— Frances Rings, Bangarra choreographer 
The dancing grounds are where we connect with our ancestors, where our heritage, language and identity are passed on.— Phillemon Mosby, Torres Strait Island regional councillor 
History of Bangarra's performances
Usually Bangarra creates at least one new performance each year. Here is a timeline showing you their program since 1992. 
Praying Mantis DreamingPraying Mantis Dreaming, Bangarra's first full-length work, tells the story of a young Aboriginal girl on her journey from her traditional homelands to the city. The Spirit of the Praying Mantis Dreaming watches over both worlds, guiding and protecting the Aboriginal inhabitants, and encouraging the girl to seek her cultural heritage.
NinniNinni is a dance drama about an urban Aboriginal family, partly absorbed into the mainstream Australian culture, and their search for a common cultural identity in the face of social, political and historic issues that confront Aboriginal people today. At Ninni's heart is Mother Earth, the mother of children and the mother of carrying our strong cultural identity.
OchresIn all its forms and colours, ochre is essential to the life of Aboriginal communities. This four-part contemporary dance work – yellow, black, red and white – is a portrayal for each colour of this earthy substance, its myriad of purposes and the spiritual significance to Aboriginal people.
With Ochres Bangarra made itself known internationally for the first time.
FishFish continues the story of the earth and the power of the elements that began with Ochres, taking the journey to the vast bodies of water: the seas, the rivers, the swamps and the wealth of life and mystery they contain. Chapters: Swamp – Traps – Reef.
RitesIn Rites, choreographer Stephen Page explores the natural forces which determine Australia's ancient landscape. It's an attempt to capture the spiritual essence of these elements in 'snapshots' or flash points. Each of the elements – earth, wind, fire, water – have their own ritual, their own special characteristics.
Page developed a new dance language combining strict classical ballet technique with an Aboriginal vein.
The DreamingSteeped in the cultural heritage of Aboriginal people The Dreaming combines ancient myth with electrifying movement and music from the contemporary urban world. It journeys across Australia's sweeping landscapes and waters resonating with the spirit of the country and its people.
SkinA story seeded from the Dreaming, from both Mother Earth and the male energy she bears, Skin explores the knowledge, challenges, and hope of a people through the complexities of Aboriginal kinship and culture. It is about accepting and respecting it - and that it is still alive. The bonding spirit of the women in Shelter lay the foundation for the men of Spear to survive.
CorroboreeFrom the brolga plains of Arnhem Land to the cool swirling waters of the Torres Strait, Corroboree journeys through the songlines of three Dreamings that are central to Aboriginal peoples. Quietly political and evocative, it strives to bring attention to the origins of life.
AwakeningsAwakenings weaves storytelling, dance, theatre and music into an inspirational theatrical experience. It is the celebration of the resilience of Aboriginal culture. A 'Best of Bangarra' production, this work features excerpts from Skin, Alchemy, Fish, Ochres, Corroboree and Boomerang.
WalkaboutWalkabout traces an extraordinary history of indigenous struggle and survival from the early missions and stations of outback Australia to the neon soaked streets of our modern day cities.
Rations and Rush (double bill)Rations explores mission live in colonial Australia and a remarkable history and struggle and survival. It pulls at the threads of hand-me-downs. Lured from their homelands, clothed in cast offs and fed an alien diet of flour and sugar, the people find themselves trapped in a cycle of dependency.
Rush captures the energy and resilience of youth, the struggle to reconcile old ways with new and cleanse the pain of the past. It is very sparse and abstract, touches on religion, on substances and poisons, confinement, the stolen generation – but the themes are universal. They apply to any culture in the world.
BushBush is inspired by the Dreamtime creation stories of Arnhem Land. From the last breath of sunset to the first finger-light of dawn, the audience enters a mysterious and secret space - reptilian creatures slither from dark caves, a moth emerges from its cocoon, the land erupts pushing up mountains and carving waterholes--the world is being born.
Clan: Unaipon and Reflections (double bill)Unaipon is inspired by the life and vibrant intellect of Aboriginal inventor, writer and philosopher, David Unaipon, who is featured on the Australian $50 note.
Reflections brings together excerpts from milestone works such as Ochres, Fish and Skin which are woven together into one sensual and emotive theatrical experience.
BoomerangInspired by the songs and stories of North East Arnhem Land, Boomerang combines exhilarating dance and stunning theatricality. Caught between two worlds - one ancient, one modern - a family returns to their traditional land to rekindle the sacred wisdom of the past for future generations. Boomerang captures the old and the new in powerful visions, revealing the impact of social poisons and the beauty of forgotten rituals.
SpiritSpirit takes audiences into a mysterious and secret space to witness nature’s sacred poetry. This special work speaks of our unique country and the First Nations cultures that have worked with it and from it, in reciprocation, for millennia. It features highlights from the company's sell-out production Bush, as well as treasured moments from Bangarra's vast repertoire.
GatheringAn electrifying meeting place between Indigenous Australian culture and contemporary Western dance, this landmark production brings together dancers from Bangarra and The Australian Ballet.Gathering is made of two dance works - Rites and Amalgamate - and explores contemporary and ancient Australian cultures with drama, imagination and physicality.
True Stories: Emeret Lu and X300 (double bill)Emeret Lu ('Very Old Things') - the passion and energy of the traditional people of the Torres Strait Islands. Choreographer Elma Kris explores her peoples' love of the land, the sea and their unique culture with an exuberance handed down from generation to generation.
Between 1955 and 1963 a series of British atomic explosions were conducted on Maralinga, Tjarutja traditional lands in the remote western areas of South Australia. The code name of the test site was X300. This work powerfully and spectacularly explores a landscape assumed vacant but which in reality became a contaminated desert which poisoned the people.
MathinnaInspired by a young girl's journey between two cultures, Mathinna traces the fragmented history of a young Tasmanian Aboriginal girl removed from her traditional life and adopted into Western colonial society, only to be ultimately returned to the fragments of her original heritage.
At Oyster Cove, Tasmania, a colonial settlement from the 1800s, 47 Aboriginal people, including the young Mathinna, were incarcerated. Mathinna was forced to move to Oyster Cove in 1847 along with the other Indigenous people who had been relocated to Wybalenna on Flinder's Island after being compulsorily and officially removed from their traditional lands across Tasmania by the colonial government of the times. At Oyster Cove, Mathinna took to heavy drinking, which contributed to her tragic death by drowning in 1852. She was only 21 years old.
Fire – A RetrospectiveFire – A Retrospective features the most memorable and potent elements of the company's repertoire during this extraordinary and dynamic artistic period.
Of Earth and SkyThis double-bill shows Artefacts which was inspired by the history between man and object and is choreographed by Frances Rings. Daniel Riley McKinley's Riley is his first choreographic endeavour for Bangarra and celebrates Indigenous photographer Michael Riley.
BelongBelong features two dance theatre pieces: ID by Artistic Director Stephen Page draws upon his personal experiences of observing contemporary Aboriginal people tracing their bloodlines, re-connecting with their traditional heritage and living modern Aboriginal lives in a challenging urban society.
About by dancer and choreographer Elma Kris was inspired by creation stories from Saibai Island, located in the Torres Strait between the Australian mainland and the island of New Guinea. Elma Kris weaves a contemporary fusion of song and dance, reflecting the exuberance of Torres Strait Islander cultures.
Night SkyNight Sky is a collaboration between Bangarra and the Australian Ballet Company, Australia's national ballet company, as part of their 50th Anniversary celebrations. For the first time The Australian Ballet help tell a traditional Aboriginal story – that of the night skies of Arnhem Land, beginning with the first evening star.
TerrainTerrain takes you to Kati Thanda (Lake Eyre) in South Australia, the place of Australia’s inland sea: one of the few untouched natural waterways and wonders in the world. It explores the fundamental connection between Aboriginal people and land – how our land looks after us, how we connect with its spirit, and how we regard its future.
Warumuk - In the Dark NightWarumuk is inspired by Aboriginal stories about the stars in the universe, drawing from Aboriginal astronomy, the lunar eclipse, and the myths around the constellation of the seven Sisters. It combines orchestra with traditional Aboriginal songs.
BlakBlak places culture at the heart of our existence. It reaffirms the powerful experiences of rites of passage for young people as they transition to adulthood. By embracing their responsibilities, these young people become a critical link in the songlines that connect our future with our ancient past.Based on the myriad of stories told by Bangarra’s young artists, their personal appreciation for traditional customs and practices drives the central themes of Blak. Culture, language and survival are intrinsically linked in the urban world of changing social behaviours.
Dance Clan 3For the Corroboree Sydney 2013 festival, Bangarra created Dance Clan 3, four works that explore Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander story lines and extend an invitation "into the heart and soul of Bangarra to experience [their] inspirational contemporary culture".
PatyegarangAs the colonial fleet arrived on Eora country in the late 18th century, Patyegarang befriended the colony’s timekeeper, Lieutenant William Dawes, gifting him her language in an extraordinary display of trust and friendship, which now inspires our imaginations about ‘first contact’.
In Dawes’ notebooks, rediscovered in 1972, are transcripts of this remarkable cultural exchange. Patyegarang's words are a window into a rich, complex and utterly different perspective on her world, its values and its sacred meanings.
LoreLore is a production of two works, taking you on a dance experience of Australia’s homelands in a celebration of Aboriginal Australia.
Choreographer Frances Rings wrote the stories of She Oak – the Grandmother Tree, a symbol of shelter, medicine and protection, with the tree standing as a true witness to the changing lives of each new generation and a testimony to their birthright.
With IBIS Deborah Brown and Waangenga Blanco invite you to their homeland in the Torres Strait, from the enigmatic waters of the islands to the frozen section of the local IBIS (Islanders Board of Industry and Service) supermarket stores.
SpearSpear is Bangarra's first dance feature film. Based on the 2000 production of the same name, Spear is directed by Stephen Page.
Our Land People StoriesOur Land People Stories is a triple bill with the following performances:
Artistic Director Stephen Page tells the story of internationally acclaimed visual artist Nyapanyapa Yunupingu from North East Arnhem Land. This piece draws inspiration from her incredible life story and paintings.
Jasmin Sheppard's Macq (first performed in 2013 during Dance Clan 3) is brought to the main stage, exploring the March of Macquarie on 17 April 1816 in Appin, west of Sydney - a historical chapter that decimated Sydney's Aboriginal community.
Daniel Riley and Beau Dean Riley Smith create Miyagan , a poignant dance story mapping their cultural heritage in a discovery of their family background on Wiradjuri country in New South Wales.
BennelongWoollarawarre Bennelong was a senior man of the Eora, from the Port Jackson area in Sydney. In a tumultuous time of Australia’s history, Bennelong and the Eora Nation transcended “first contact”, leaving us a legacy that is still so tangible in our 21st century. Bennelong highlights the extraordinary curiosity and diplomacy that led an Aboriginal community to survive a clash of cultures.This triple bill takes audiences across Australia, from North East Arnhem Land’s red dust, to the waters of the Torres Strait Islands – home of the salt-water creature, the Dugong – to urban Aboriginal life looking at gender challenges and the human spirit.
Dark EmuDark Emu was inspired by Bruce Pascoe’s award-winning book of the same name. Using the book as a starting point, the performance explores the vital life force of flora and fauna in a series of dance stories, with pre-recorded quotes from Pascoe woven into the production.
Dubboo – Life of a SongmanThis program celebrates the life of the late David Page. 'Dubboo' was his nickname. It shows two sides of David: The composer who wrote 27 scores for Bangarra, and the boy who loved staging his own floor shows for the family. As a man David staged his own one-man show, called Page 8. This is a one-off celebration of a man who gave his heart and soul and shaped a significant chapter of Bangarra's history.
Knowledge Ground: 30 years of 65,000 yearsThis year Bangarra celebrates its 30th anniversary season with a display of contemporary dance theatre, inspired by 65,000 years of culture and the continual evolution of Aboriginal storytelling.
The works include Frances Rings’ Unaipon, a portrait of Aboriginal inventor, philosopher, writer and storyteller, Ngarrindjeri man David Unaipon, and Stamping Ground, the first time in the company’s history that it performs a piece that was choreographed outside Australia, by Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián.
Sandsong: Stories from the Great Sandy DesertIn celebration of its fourth decade, Sandsong traces the ancient memories embedded in Kimberley Country, and creates new narratives for Aboriginal futures.
Resonating under the vast Kimberley sky lie the stories of people and Country. Through the pindan red dust and dry spinifex grass, the undulating sandhills give rise to the movements of people in a shifting cycle of displacement and discontent.
At the heart of this is the Jila – Living Water, a symbol of ancient knowledge and power, and a connection back to the Ancestral lands of the old people.
As we journey through the cultural landscape, we uncover ancient story systems embedded in the land, and passed on to a new generation struggling to navigate cycles of government policy and social dysfunction across a fractured cultural divide.
Sandsong was created in consultation with the Wangkatjungka / Walmajarri Elders from the Kimberley region.
Note: Due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 Bangarra had to reschedule this performance to 2021.
SpiritSpirit: A Retrospective 2021 is a collection of dance stories taken from Bangarra’s 31-year repertoire. It invites audiences to connect with stories and songlines drawn from all over Australia, in a celebration of First Nations Peoples’ unbroken connection to the land.
Wudjang: Not the PastIn the deep darkness just before dawn, workmen find bones while excavating for a dam. Among them is a Yugambeh man, Bilin, who convinces his colleagues to let him keep the ancestral bones. This ancestor is Wudjang, who longs to be reburied the proper way. With her young companion spirit, Gurai, she dances and teaches and sings of the past, of the earth, of songlines. 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. The work, a collaboration between Bangarra and the Sydney Theatre Company, is Stephen Page’s last production as Bangarra's creative director.
Waru: Journey of the small turtleThis is Bangarra’s first dedicated work for children. It follows Migi, a small turtle who undertakes a journey of discovery and survival. Waru is a contemporary saltwater Lagaw Kazil (Island Children) story inspired by the totemic system of the green turtle. It is also an introduction to Torres Strait Islander culture and dance for children.
YuldeaThis is Frances Rings’ first work as Artistic Director. Yuldea is a ceremonial affirmation of history and heritage. It awakens the earth and sky worlds to tell the story of the Anangu people of the Great Victorian Desert. Yuldea explores the moment traditional life collided with the industrial ambition of a growing nation. In 1917, the two halves of the Transcontinental Railway met at the precious water soak on the edge of the Nullarbor, Yuldi Kapi.
Great metal serpents scarred the landscape, draining all water from the sacred soak. Then came the black mist of the atomic testing at Maralinga, forcing the Anangu people to leave their desert homelands where they had lived for millennia.
Now memories lay scattered, like the Anangu people, displaced from their home. Remnants of colonial progress are swallowed by sand. But the Anangu endure, determined to keep strong their knowledge systems of land and sky, honouring their eternal bonds of kinship between people and place.
We are storytellers. And the best way any culture reflects itself is by telling stories. Stories tell us where we've come from, where we're going. They celebrate, explain, lament. They can be weapons too. The Australian identity needs Indigenous storytelling.— Stephen Page, artistic director, Bangarra Dance Theatre 
Bangarra has a special 'paint up' room where ochre and paint is applied for the performance. The entire room is covered in black plastic to protect the décor and has to be mopped down every night . The dancers use more than 100 kg of ochre per year. 
Dancer/choreographer Daniel Riley McKinley is covered from head to toe in grey paint at the beginning of Artefact, and has only one minute and forty-five seconds to remove it backstage before he has to re-appear in another section of the work .
For more information and performance schedule check out www.bangarra.com.au.
You can purchase Bangarra Theatre's DVDs and CDs in their shop.
You can also read booklets of previous performances.