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Stories from the Island Children

In their brand new facility in Sydney’s Walsh Bay, Bangarra Dance Theatre have once again produced an awe-inspiring work, but this time, it might also be their sweetest; their first offering for children: “Waru—Journey of the Small Turtle.”


Bangarra Dance Theatre: “Waru, Journey of the Small Turtle”


Studio Theatre, Walsh Bay, Sydney, NSW, September 29, 2022


Claudia Lawson

Elma Kris and Aba Bero in “Waru—Journey of the Small Turtle” by Bangarra Dance Theatre. Photograph by Daniel Boud

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As delighted children and adults alike enter the Studio Theatre, we are instantly under the starry skies of the Torres Strait. A tiny island lays in front of us, and there, nestled in the centre of the small sandy beach is an outhouse-style veranda, on it, a comfy looking bed right in the middle. As the chatter and hubbub of small voices are hushed, the bed blanket starts to rustle, and we are introduced the wondrous Aka Malu, played by the equally wondrous Elma Kris. Aka Malu is the island’s care taker, an illuminating and motherly-figure, she is the perfect storyteller for the audience.

From here the story takes flight—Aka Malu introduces us to a green turtle, a mother turtle, who is slowly navigating her way back to the beach. The breeding season has started, and the turtle is returning to nest, and soon the island will welcome a new generation of baby turtles. Amongst them, our heroine, Migi, the small green turtle.

With Migi, we are on an adventure. With the help of Aka Malu we gently push the baby turtles swim out to sea, the audience helping all the way. Migi’s story is one of discovery and perseverance, she traverses the oceans, discovers the winds, survives plastic and pollution, before finally returning to the island to lay her own eggs.

Elma Kris in “Waru—Journey of the Small Turtle” by Bangarra Dance Theatre. Photograph by Daniel Boud

The entire work is presented with gentleness and humour that only Elma Kris can bring. Kris moves effortlessly around the stage, willing her audience to help her all the way. There are giggles and squeals as Kris shoos away a lizard away with her broomstick, and smiles and pointing fingers as she snuggles up for a sleep with her turtle-shaped pillow. But as always with Bangarra the messaging is divine, and in this case delivered with appropriate tenderness—we are poised to think about island life, about caring for our environment, along with the traditional cultural values of respect and reciprocity.

Aimed at the four- to seven-year-olds, “Waru” is perfectly timed at 45 minutes with no interval. Created by Stephen Page, together with Hunter Page-Lochard and Bangarra alumni Sani Townson and Elma Kris, the choreography is both immersive and interactive, the audience expertly guided by Elma Kris and encouraged all the way. Performer Aba Bero, as both the turtle, the menacing lizard, and even embodying the plastic pollution, is enthralling. All complemented with set and costume design by Jacob Nash, the work comes together with wonder and beauty.

Elma Kris and Aba Bero in “Waru—Journey of the Small Turtle” by Bangarra Dance Theatre. Photograph by Daniel Boud

Bangarra Dance Theatre have once again brought their storytelling prowess, their joyful movement, along with a reminder of their critical importance in our dance landscape to life. “Waru—Journey of the Small Turtle” is pure delight. A humbling and wondrous performance that should be seen by all children.

Claudia Lawson

Claudia Lawson is a dance critic based in Sydney, Australia, writing regularly for ABC Radio National, ABC Arts, and Fjord Review. After graduating with degrees in Law and Forensic Science, Claudia worked as a media lawyer for the ABC, FOXTEL and the BBC in London, where she also co-founded Street Sessions dance company. Returning to Sydney, Claudia studied medicine and now works as a doctor. She is the host of the award-winning Talking Pointes Podcast.



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