Bangarra Dance Theatre - Bennelong

3 August 2017

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Bennelong epitomises what this company does brilliantly. It tells us a story we knew little of, but has a name, Bennelong, that still resonates through the history of the clans and colonialists of early Sydney. This tragic figure is resurrected to a status that will live long in our collected knowledge, handled with the expertise, extraordinary talent and creativity of Bangarra.

As a production it is compelling, with all aspects of sound, lighting, costumes and choreography coalescing in a visually exciting, very physical and emotionally charged story where Beau Dean Riley Smith becomes Bennelong. A new benchmark for this talented dancer.

Bennelong is an episodic telling of the Bennelong story. Each episode a collaborative result of meticulous research from the historical record but ultimately a story that evolved and grew to be a chronology of the significant parts of the Bennelong story, an Eora man of the Wangal clan whose story is entwined in the beginnings of the colony.

 There is profound sadness in the compelling depiction of the effect of smallpox on the local Aborigines, the almost comic donning of the traditional British garb during his trip to England and a constant prevailing as Bennelong, the man trying to live between two cultures, dies a tormented man. And we are left with the familiar caricature of Bennelong lingering on a mausoleum.

Bangarra Dance Theatre is much loved and admired as a company of excellence and exciting theatre in Canberra and Bennelong is among their best yet, with a nano second of absolute silence in the Canberra Theatre before a resounding standing ovation for this significant and defining production.