Review: Terrain at the Sydney Opera House

Review by Nola Bartolo


The Bangarra Dance Theatre’s opening night of Terrain heralded a standing ovation and rightly so. The award-winning, ten-year anniversary run of Frances Ring’s Terrain opened with an emotionally breath-taking performance that held the audience in awe from the very beginning and didn’t let go till the very end. To be honest it still has a hold of me. This is my very first review, my very first time seeing The Bangarra Dance Theatre and I can assure you that after last night – it will not be my last. I came in with no expectations and I was completely blown away. I left wanting to know more about dance, this land, the history and the relationship that our First nations people have with it.

Terrain is inspired by the area of Australia known as Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre. A very important landscape in the Aboriginal culture, where humans draw life and express meaning to that life. The production explores the fundamental connection between Aboriginal people and land, through treatment, understanding and regard of its future.

Terrain is presented as nine sections or ‘states of experiencing’ the terrain of Lake Eyre. The sections depict particular features of the lake’s environment as well as the culture of the Arabunna people. Certain themes or provocations are presented throughout the work, including how we feel and acknowledge connection to ‘place’ and how the experience of a place like Kati Thanda can inspire us to think about the power of an ancient land.

Frances Ring’s choreography is simply stunning. The way the dancers depicted the salt, the mud, the land, the water, the birds, the animals, the waves, the trees was truly moving. Ancient indigenous stories being told through the athleticism of the dancers who all were so connected and engaged was powerful. If their aim was to connect the modern audience to ancient beliefs and respect for the land, then the whole company succeeded. The energy in the theatre was all about connection and unity from the welcome to country to the haunting music, the sincere choreography, the costumes, the sound and the lighting – all merged so beautifully.

The costumes were exquisite and could have been on the runway at Australian Fashion Week or even Paris, London and New York. Jennifer Irwin did a remarkable job here. The set was sparse and the artwork back drops were a highlight. The energy of the pieces was vulnerable yet strong with an overwhelming honesty, just like our land.

For me the whole experience was divine in nature. From walking to the Sydney Opera House and seeing the sails all lit up in Aboriginal designs and art due to Vivid Sydney in full swing only enhanced the night. I felt the emotion of the ancient ancestors through the sensational dancers. Everything all worked so seamlessly in telling the story. Those dancers faces when the audience erupted in applause with a standing ovation was priceless to see.

I highly recommend that all Australians, whatever your taste in entertainment go and see Terrain and prepare to be mesmerised. Terrain is playing at the Sydney Opera House till June 25, Canberra Theatre Centre 28 – 30 July and Queensland Performing Arts Centre 4 – 13 August, 2022.

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