Bangarra Dance Theatre will present the world premiere of their latest work, Blak, in early May in Melbourne at the Arts Centre before taking it on a national tour.

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s latest work, Blak, is a choreographic collaboration between the company’s artist director, Stephen Page, and young dancer Daniel Riley McKinley with the edgy, highly physical piece exploring the collision between traditional indigenous culture and the modern world.

“All of Bangarra’s work in deeply rooted in our culture and the stories from indigenous history,” McKinley explains, “but when the company did the retrospective, Fire, in 2009, the choreography that I felt really resonated with me was Skin because it explored a lot of contemporary social ideas. Bangarra does our old story-telling so well, but I wanted to choreograph a work that really resonated with where young indigenous people are today – the indigenous people living in a contemporary society.

“I began to think about my own life in that regard. I began thinking about manhood and that rite of passage and the transition from boyhood to manhood in today’s world. In outback communities they still have a series of traditional initiation ceremonies but young indigenous men living in the cities don’t really know much about that rite of passage. Blak explores what all that means and we’ve devised ways of presenting that physicality from pre-adolescent through to early manhood and then into adulthood.

“It’s a very broad subject to cover,” he continues, “so the male dancers in the company had a lot of lengthy discussions about whether or not we had actually reached that level of manhood. We also made a week-long cultural trip to Arnhem Land to reinvigorate our spirits and also find some inspiration.”
The soundscape for Blak has been put together by the company’s David Page in collaboration with Paul Mac, the electronic composer known for his award winning solo work and dance music duo Itch-E & Scratch-E as well his time as a member of The Dissociatives with silverchair’s Daniel Johns.

“Paul is really enjoying learning what we do and how we create movement and shape a show,” McKinley enthuses. “Stephen (Page) had suggested Paul coming on board right from the beginning to work on the Blak soundscape with David and the partnership is working really well. David already had such a great knowledge of what we do because he is Bangarra’s regular composer, but Paul has brought in some really urban, beat-heavy sounds.

“He also works really quickly,” he adds. “I’ll have a talk to Paul about the source material and what we want to achieve with the music and he will go away inspired and come back the next day with a piece that’s quite intuitive. He’s just such a great creator in that way.”

The dancer, whose bloodline is from the Wiradjuri people of western New South Wales, joined the company in 2007 following a stint with Adelaide’s Leigh Warren & Dancers. He made his choreographic debut with Riley, a work inspired by cousin Michael Riley’s well-known photographic series, cloud, for Bangarra’s double bill of and earth and sky in 2010 and was pleased to revisit it as part of a regional tour in 2012.

“It was nice to go back to country with Riley because we went to Dubbo where Michael was originally from,” he says. “And it’s always a bonus to look at work again and give it another life. It gave me an opportunity to see what worked and what didn’t.”


Bangarra Dance Theatre presents Blak at Arts Centre Melbourne, Playhouse, from May 3 to 11.


Photo: Greg Barrett


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