Last Updated 03 Mar 2020

Ochres: Dance and Aboriginal Culture

Category Australia, Dance
Essay type Research
Words 1127 (4 pages)
Views 375

Bangarra Dance Company Ochres: Red vs. Black Culture and its, at times, inconceivable differences is an expression of concern for our society today. Silencing and elapsing of cultures and traditions seems to have escalated immensely. However, for the sake of our future, there is strong importance in the need of these traditions endurance. Therefore, contemporary dance has the aptitude in defying these unjust cultural judgments. We see countless contemporary choreographers, today, merging momentous techniques of contemporary with traditional aspects of cultures; for unerringly that reason.

Widely acclaimed within Australia and internationally, Bangarra Dance Theatre presents the spirit of true Australia. They make traditional culture accessible and enjoyable, providing an enriching experience for the audience. Their works are creative and thought-provoking, contributing to a greater understanding and acceptance of Aboriginal values. The work of Ochres (1995), a Bangarra Dance Theatre production, embraces upon the cultural and spiritual significance of Aboriginal life.

Through the four colours of Ochres, each representing an element of Aboriginal culture, Stephen Page integrated contemporary abstraction in exposing symbolic reasoning. A correlation of the inspired traditional forms is distinguishable in both sections ‘Red’ and ‘Black’ of the phenomenal production. Evidently, through the use of only four male dancers, ‘Black’ conveys the element of men’s business. The storyline perceives an ash storm that has blown over and that the call and pain of initiation can only be viewed from a distance.

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Traditionally, what’s more stereotypically, men were visualised as the control and workers in Aboriginal culture. As the support providers for their families, men would find themselves endlessly hunting and toiling. Stephen Page successfully fused these aspects of tradition within a contemporary piece; creating such meaning. Varying movements are performed with strong suspension and sustainability; denoting their power and boldness. This is further supported by, in sections of the dance, the strength held by the upper torso while utilizing various leg movements.

Actions of kicks and leaps are performed at various levels assisting in the representation of the ups and downs they are faced with, and the fight from pain. The movement where dancers appear kneeling to the floor, pushing and pulling their arms repeatedly, appears as an abstraction of plowing; another element of men at work. Furthermore, movements intertwine with the use of props as they crawl behind and in front of them. It is this that appears as a sign of the men being out in the bush hunting.

In order to define their connection with the land; tradition of aboriginal culture, low crawling and floor movements are seen throughout the sequence. In comparison, the development of ‘Red’ evokes the customs, laws and values placed on the relationships between women and men who have been on a path of change since time began. In each of these relationships: the youth, the obsession, the poison, the pain, there is struggle. Unlike ‘Black’, ‘Red’ makes use of both male and female dancers to portray this message and embrace these relationships.

Within the first sequence, youth is evidently conveyed through the use of childlike motifs; such as the women flashing her dress towards the man, running around, skipping, and torment of the male. It appears as the initiation of a relationship between a man and a woman; or as evident in youth, a girl and a boy. As the sequence progress, the young boy finds himself arising from the torment of these fellow ladies and perseveres his dominance. During torment the male is visualised sitting at a lower level, but once power is regained levels change dramatically where he is above the women.

As the males in ‘black’, the male’s movements are performed with strong suspension and sustainability of his entire physique. Strong kicks, high leaps and barrel rolls, and lifting of the female dancers further enhance his dominance. Again, as ‘black’ embraces in a connection to the land through numerous floor movements so too does ‘red’. The following two segments, encompassing obsession and poison, are where a slight contrast of movements is evident. Suspended and sustained movements remain but less sharp and forceful; almost more drawn out and gradual.

This emphasises the delicate love and care for each other. However, as the word obsession suggests, its segment consist of support where dancers are endlessly connected: either being hip to hip, head to hip or upper body to upper body. This idea establishes the need for one person within love, always relying on them and falling back to them. Furthermore, it encompasses numerous lifts throughout to convey their connection. Whereas, within poison slow suspended movements are performed in unison almost repelling each other. Dancers become within each other’s personal space, so close yet do not touch.

This is the beginning of the struggle of relationships; where they find themselves repulsed by each other. Finally, the closing segment addresses pain; the dying of one’s love. This section is relatively shorter than the rest representing the short death and pain. The male appears as the focus, just like the males present in ‘black’, as he sits at a low level; close to the connection of his land for the last time. The female is present dancing around him as a spirit of hope. Evidently, she utilises various turns and jumps to achieve this meaning.

Traditional aspect of the stolen generation can further be respected abstractedly within the work of ‘Red’; dwelling upon the historical background of Aboriginal’s. This is shown through the men representing the government and the women representing all of the Aboriginal women. Movements have been utilised through forceful suspension and sustainability allowing the dancers to express their emotions towards this historical chapter. The fast movements and the use of space show the aboriginals trying to escape from the government in order to save their family.

As Page endeavours to encompass Aboriginal culture within contemporary dance, he makes use of occasional Aboriginal dance techniques. In both ‘Red’ and ‘Black’ of Ochres it is blatant to see these techniques throughout. By altering movements, that would generally be seen on straight supporting legs; such as pirouettes, to bent from the knees is one approach of foreshadowing Aboriginal techniques. From the bending of knees, asymmetrical shapes can then be established; another aspect visualised within Aboriginal dances. Finally, music and aural elements of the entire piece encompass aboriginal chanting to maintain this culture.

Stephen Page’s production of Ochres is one of the many illustrations to how contemporary choreographers of today revive those slowly diminishing traditions of our historical cultures. As distinguished within the works of ‘Black’ and ‘Red’ of this production, cultural understanding and justice can be achieved through incorporating its aspects into contemporary dance. His influence to our current and future society has been enormous, contributing to a much greater understanding and acceptance of cultural values. More particularly, our authentic Australian spirit of Aboriginal ancestors can be reunderstood and claimed as truly remarkable.

Ochres: Dance and Aboriginal Culture essay

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Ochres: Dance and Aboriginal Culture. (2018, May 25). Retrieved from

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