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Hope on the Horizon

With a bang it begins, the explosion of a star, on stage at the Playhouse, Arts Centre. Bangarra Dance Theatre’s “Yuldea” has arrived on Wurundjeri Country (Melbourne) with a supernova to outshine entire galaxies, before heading to Bendigo, Djaara Country, for the final quivering leg and jutting arm of shifting gas and particles.


Bangarra Dance Theatre: “Yuldea”


Playhouse, Arts Centre, Melbourne / Wurundjeri Woi-Wurrung Country, September 28 & October 4, 2023


Gracia Haby

Bangarra Dance Theatre in “Yuldea” by Frances Rings. Photograph by Daniel Boud

Told in four passages, Frances Rings’s first full-length choreographic work as artistic director, commences with “a beautiful sky story,” a supernova, which carries a water spirit who flows into Kapi (Water), replete with “the birds and the dingoes and the family tree, and their significance to Mob,” as company dancer Emily Flannery describes. Since 2002, Rings, a former dancer with the company herself, has created eight works for Bangarra, “Rations,” “Unaipon”, “X300” (named after the code name for the nuclear test site on Maralinga, Tjarutja traditional lands), “Artefact,” “Terrain,” “Sheoak,” Bush” and “Sandsong” (both co-choreographed with Stephen Page), and now “Yuldea,” the story of “the Anangu of the Great Victorian Desert and the Nunga of the Far West Region of South Australia, who have experienced every chapter of colonial incursions since British settlement, their traditional life colliding with the western capitalism and the Age of Imperialism,”[1] as conveyed in Act 3, Empire, and the full circle healing of Act 4, Ooldea Spirit. For this is also the story of the determination of the Anangu people “to honour the eternal bonds of kinship between people and place.”[2]

Amberlilly Gordon and Kiarn Doyle in “Yuldea” by Frances Rings. Photograph by Daniel Boud

Wearing beautiful, sculptural neckpieces made from an iridescent green material to represent particles as they move through space, the dancers skitter through the chaos that is the explosion of a star and the change it signals. Jennifer Irwin’s textural costumes grow as if they are living forms, always seeking to emphasise movement. With each wear they assume layers of paint and sweat. The stars overhead are reflected on the black gloss of the stage flooring, thanks to Elizabeth Gadsby’s set design. And on opening night, in the circle, this unfurled sky lore in the theatre is breathtaking.

The horizon is drawn by a curved, floor to ceiling forest of ropes, hanging from the rigging, connecting the sky with the earth, in emphasis of all things being connected. Because “Country includes, seas, waters, rocks, animals, winds and all the beings that exists and make up a place, including people. It also embraces the stars, moon, Milky Way, solar winds and storms, and intergalactic plasma. [Because what] we do in one part of country affects all others.”[3] Nine kilometres of rope, painted black ombre, and interspersed with neon drops to make spark and tension, has been used to suggest Wirangu and Mirning Country. Karen Norris’s suspended lighting sculpture follows this arc and delineates a library of knowledge in the sky to the life-sustaining source of permanent water, Yuldea Kapi. In Kapi Spirit, Lillian Banks and Kallum Goolagong are captivating and their movements fluid, as if through their limbs water flows. 

Lillian Banks and Kallum Goolagong in “Yuldea” by Frances Rings. Photograph by Kate Longley

In Red Mallee, Daniel Mateo and Kassidy Waters become a mallee tree and move as one in sped-up evocation of ‘tree time.’ Held aloft in Mateo’s arms, Waters extends her legs slowly, tentatively, as if they are tree roots in search of water, growing before my eyes to the creak-creak composition of Leon Rodgers, and guest composers Electric Fields. Just as the mallee tree holds water in their roots, their movements ‘take in’ water, and I am filled with a sense of how beautiful things would have looked before colonisation, under “65,000 years of caring for the planet.”[4]

Seen again the following week, though this time in the stalls, up close to the waters’ edge, the Water Diviners, the Birds and Dingoes, make away with my heart in equal portions. Heard in flittering song before they are seen, the Birds, Courtney Radford, Flannery, Maddison Paluch, Janaya Lamb, and Chantelle Lee Lockhart, with iridescent blue markings at the temples and elaborate plumage upon their shoulders, make light, fast movements as befits the desert waterfinders, the zebra finch, striated pardalote and a red-browned pardalote.

The panting of the Dingoes, too, is heard before they are seen, as the stage lighting begins to glow red. Rikki Mason, Bradley Smith, Kiarn Doyle, Jesse Murray, and James Boyd weight themselves closer to the floor, closer to a quadruped. They sniff at the air, they scratch the ground, and like the Birds before them, they know where water can be found and they live its importance.

Daniel Mateo in “Yuldea” by Frances Rings. Photograph by Kate Longley

To carve into this comes the construction of the Trans-Australian railway at the sacred site of the Ooldea Soak on the edge of the Nullarbor. To claim, to exploit, to all this comes Act 3’s Empire and greed, with Letters Patent,[5] Snake, Mission, and the devastation of Black Mist, the Australian Government’s atomic testing at Maralinga between 1956 and 1963.[6] This rain of particles is now radioactive. And beneath which Mason’s devastated form huddles and writhes, as he is coated in a black, ash-like rain that sticks to and sears the skin. Norris’s suspended sculpture now reads to me like a bone in the body exposed to radioactive materials.[7] 

From destruction comes renewal in the creative cycle, and in Ooldea Spirit, we hear voices from the Yalata community, ensuring the remembrance of the spirit of Yuldea. As Cultural Consultant Maureen “Mima” Smart describes, “it’s important that these stories are told for our next generation”. Rings continues, “we keep them alive in moments like this. And what a privilege to be able to walk with our Elders through the light and shadow of our experience, and also to join them in their journey of healing as well.” The constellation of the stage is bathed blue, and there is an overwhelming sense of hope perhaps not present, but on the horizon. 

Gracia Haby

Using an armoury of play and poetry as a lure, Gracia Haby is an artist besotted with paper. Her limited edition artists’ books, and other works hard to pin down, are often made collaboratively with fellow artist, Louise Jennison. Their work is in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia and state libraries throughout Australia to the Tate (UK). Gracia Haby is known to collage with words as well as paper.


  1. “Anangu means ‘people’ in Pitjantjatjara language. Anangu is the name used by the people of the Western Desert when referring to themselves. Nunga also means ‘people’ in Pitjantjatnara language. Nunga is used by the people of the Far West Region of South Australia.” “Yuldea” Cheat Sheet, Bangarra Dance Theatre,, accessed September 27, 2023.
  2. Creative Life Cycle, “Yuldea”, Bangarra Dance Theatre,, accessed September 28, 2023.
  3. Bawaka Country, “Dukarr lakarama: Listening to Guwak, Talking back to Space Colonisation,” Political Geography, Volume 81, 2020, 2 in Karlie Noon and Krystal De Napoli, Sky Country, 2022. 
  4. “Celestial Terrains / Chaos and Order,” “Yuldea” Study Guide for Teachers and Students, Bangarra Dance Theatre, 5,, accessed September 28, 2023.
  5. “The Letters patent of 1836 is one of the first and the most clearly expressed statements of intent regarding land rights for Australia’s First Nations people. In 1838, the South Australian Act of 1834 was amended to include the King’s provision. However, apart from some small portions of land being set aside for reserves and missions, the intent of the statement has been largely ignored and the dialogue around recognition of the South Australian 1836 Letters Patent continues to this day.” “The Letters Patent,” “Yuldea” Study Guide for Teachers and Students, Bangarra Dance Theatre, 8,, accessed September 28, 2023.
  6. Rudi Bremer, ‘In Bangarra’s new work Yuldea, Frances Rings peels back Indigenous, colonial and personal history, inspired by a precious water source’, ABC Arts, August 6, 2023,, accessed September 29, 2023.
  7. Mike Ladd, “The lesser known history of the Maralinga nuclear tests — and what it’s like to stand at ground zero,” ABC RN, March 24, 2020,, accessed September 29, 2023.



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