Terrain: Translating time on Country into dance theatre

  • Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre
  • Choreography, Music, Costumes, Songs & Language, Concept, Behind the Scenes

Terrain is inspired by the timeless wonder and spiritual resonance of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, the place of Australia's inland sea. Follow the cast and crew as they explore the relationship of Indigenous people to country and how landscape becomes a second skin.

This interview was compiled for the Sydney Opera House.

PLEASE NOTE: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that Terrain and this content contain images, audio, video, quotes and the names of people who have passed away.

"You know, every work we do, it's from a place and one of the most important things we can do is take it back to that place and, and give it back to community and that exchange of knowledge, it's really important - it drives us; it spiritually strengthens us, and we carry those experiences with us whether you're a Dancer or a Designer or a Choreographer - wherever you go."

Jacob Nash, Terrain Set Designer, 2019

Terrain: Translating time on Country into dance theatre

0.10 Frances Rings

For Indigenous people, I think landscape to them is like a second skin. It’s like, it resonates and it’s something that they close their eyes and they know their country.

0.22 David Page

Bangarra, whether people like it or not, we just do work about the land and we remind people how important our mother earth is to our culture. So Lake Eyre and Terrainas a work is another reminder.

0.44 Jacob Nash

Fran had been talking about going to Lake Eyre and sort of having a research trip and we had 5 days out there.

0.53 Frances Rings

When you first go out there you sort of have this anticipation of like oh I just want to see it, I just want to see it ...and, and when you do it’s just breathtaking.

1.10 David Page

It was quite empty. The feeling of it was … it was this sparseness about, about the country and Lake Eyre and it’s surroundings. Alienated … it’s yeah, you feel alienated. Yeah, it’s like another planet.

1.31 Frances Rings

I went on a cultural tour with an Elder from the Arabana people and his name was Reg Dodd. He knows every part of that land and country. And he’ll pull up on the side of the road and there’ll be a pile of rocks next to the Udnadatta Track and then he’ll just start removing, rock by rock, and there’ll be this amazing turquoise water hole that’s … you would never know it there.

1.55 Jacob Nash

and you’d be drinking ancient fresh water. And I think that kind of experience really, in terms of design, also fulfils you and inspires you and allows you to dream up more inspiring images.

2.07 Frances Rings

When you go out there you just are completely blinded by these salt crystals ‘cause it just bounces back up into your eyes and …

1.15 David Page

What I got from visiting the lake, in terms of music, was … firstly, is the language. That gives you a melody, or gives you the story. Um, so I always listen to the language from there and that sort of stirs me up creatively.

2.42 Frances Rings

I come back with these ideas and I write ‘em down … by the time I go into the studio and start working with the dancers, I’m pretty clear on how it’s structured and stuff.

… in bodies and backs, step in, Ella brings the boys in, to the knees pushing her up … then we’re going to travel her back …

. . . ideas from looking at the trees that was suspended and holding these contorted positions and they look like women and they look like their limbs. They were just waiting and they were just suspended and just waiting for the waters to come and travel down and then, they were, they could move on or they could then transform into something else.

. . . so do you think Robbie could be in the front somehow sort of, attached, yeah.

3.25 Tara Robertson

This way.

3.27 Frances Rings

Yeah … yeah that’s a nice sort of shape. Yeah. Great. Cool.

3.31 Deborah Brown

She’s really got some beautiful sculpturing happening with bodies to sort of replicate those trees or the spinifex. So, that was really quite interesting, to try and transform yourself into something like that.

3.52 Jacob Nash

We’re not really in a black box, which is Bangarra’s traditional look, I guess. It’s huge and white and open and there’s so much light! I really enjoy, as a first response in my design process, to paint. Lake Eyre and the country around it is such a painterly, beautiful, textured, coloured landscape. There’s a journey from beautiful vivid salt all the way through to bright, contrasting colours that you wouldn’t expect to find in a place in the middle of Australia. And then slowly, the water recedes and you go back into salt pan and then back into a fully white, crystalline world.

4.36 Jennifer Irwin

With Terrain I’m trying to be more sculptural and the fabric’s more textured like the landscape. The cracking of the, of the land. I do a lot of artwork in the, in the fabrics with the bleaching or stripping or painting into because it’s a raw kind of abstract way we can go. Where as, you’d never do that with another company.

5.15 David Page

You can dance without music . . . (laughs) … I mean, well, people do. I mean, there’s, there’s always the silence of … that option of silence, you know, especially for a choreographer . . . they go well,I just don’t want nothing here. That’s fine.

5.30 Interviewer

Do you use that?

5.32 David Page

Oh look, I haven’t, but, you know … I’ll make sure there’s some breaths, so there’s nothing … you know, it’s quite sparse. And I think with the lake, with Lake Eyre, it gives you that opportunity to go there.

5.54 Deborah Brown

When I stand on stage I can visualise that place. Um, I can look out and rather than see an audience or see just blackness and side lighting, I can then visualise the environment that the story has come from. You don’t feel like you’re performing. You, you do feel like you’re actually there, and that’s just a level that . . . it’s a level of escapism, I guess, that I like to visit every night.

6.26 Frances Rings

Landscape and going bush and country and stuff is medicine and really healthy and it connects you with your spirit, its um, you have a better understanding of yourself … you can dig a bit deeper.

Transcript Jacqui Tosi