SandSong: Stories from the Great Sandy Desert

SandSong | The Costume, Set and Lighting Design

  • the Kimberley, Great Sandy Desert
  • Costumes, Sets & Lighting, Behind the Scenes

Along with words from Bangarra's creative designers, this gallery includes images of SandSong's costumes, set cloths and lighting, across the creative process from build to stage.


People say to me ‘it must be easy to design costumes for dance, they don’t wear anything!’ There are so many things to take into consideration. Movement, longevity, cultural significance…but most importantly to tell the story and sit well within the set space. SandSong is a living, personal story very close to Bangarra’s heart. Culturally it has to be right.

The first meeting with the creatives is always exciting. Together we go through the story and breakdown the sections, it’s a very collaborative process. Once we have decided the feeling of each section I hunt for fabrics and materials that might work.

There are a lot of elements for each individual costume this time – rope neckpieces, emu feather belts, traditional head pieces. My design is influenced by the human story, the colours of the amazing landscape and natural beauty of the Kimberley region and Great Sandy Desert.

As always, I thank Stephen and Frannie for allowing me the absolute creative freedom and especially Frannie for all her original research and ideas, setting me in the appropriate directions.


I am inspired firstly by connection. At Bangarra, my connection to Fitzroy Crossing and the Kimberley was through the late Ningali Lawford Wolf. During my time at Bangarra, she has always been a part of who we are, through her connection to us as performer and storyteller, along with her friendship to Stephen, Frances, David and Russell - her spirit always is with us. So my connection to place is firstly through her. She is Fitzroy Crossing and the Kimberley to me. I never got to walk Country with her, but I did with her Family, Stephen and Frances and I felt the power of her and her Country. As the designer of SandSong, I hope that in some small way I can offer a sense of this experience and share the power, beauty and strength that I felt when I stood on her Country.


The amazing expanse of the Great Sandy Desert is a major inspiration for all aspects of this work. The extraordinary weather cycles that regularly charge through it and the attendant changes to the landscape are truly theatrical. And it would have to be the biggest sky in the world!

Discovering the true story behind the much vaunted Canning River Stock Route, the story of dispossession that led to a veritable exodus of the the Wangkatjungka and Walmajarri Peoples, resonated strongly with me while researching SandSong. Sadly, as is so often the case, the true story is completely at odds with the romanticised, white re-invention of history that I grew up with at school.

The marriage of light and movement is one of the oldest (and most successful) in our theatrical canon. Perhaps it’s because both are less literal, more allusive forms. They tell their stories more on an emotional or intuitive level and can sometimes be all the more powerful for it. In that respect, light perhaps helps to convey a story to an audience, rather than simply to tell it.

For me, the process works in two stages. The basic over-arching design I arrive at during the many discussions around “how” and “why” we are doing this particular project, in this place and at this time. At the end of that, I have an overall design in my head, in the same way that there’s also a concrete model of the set. You could think of it as a set of aesthetic parameters. What I then do within those parameters is driven entirely by what unfolds in the rehearsal room. I literally “watch” different lighting scenarios as I watch the performers working through sections of the show. It’s out of this second stage that I arrive at the final version of what I then (hopefully!) put on stage.