Ochres Essay

April 12, 2017 Music

The artistic director of the Bangarra Dance Theatre, Stephen Page noted of the spiritual aboriginal dance of ochres, the following, “As substance ochre has intrigued us. Its significance and the myriad of purposes, both spiritual and physical has been the driving force behind this collaboration. The portrayal of each colour is by no means a literal interpretation, but the awareness of its spiritual significance has challenged our contemporary expressions. This quote tells us that the traditional use of ochre within aboriginal culture is important and significant and the portrayal of each colour within the dance is not a literal interpretation but rather the portrayal of each colour does not uphold exact meaning but shows us contemporary interpretations. The work of ‘ochres’ was created by Stephen page, the artistic director of Bangarra dance theatre. The piece represents the cultural and spiritual significance linked to ochre within the aboriginal people.

Stephen page incorporated aboriginal dance into the contemporary style to create a fusion which appeals to all to help modern society understand the importance of certain cultural beliefs to the aboriginal population. The use of aboriginal movements is often shown through the use of grounded movements, animal mimicry and angular body shapes whilst the contemporary style is shown through lifts, the flow of movements and also technique. With the combination and fusion of both of these styles Stephen Page and Bernadette Walong working with the Bangarra Dance theatre, an indigenous Australian company, is able to create a captivating work of art.

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Ochre is a traditional form of aboriginal paint. It is made through grinding rock to powder and mixing with fluid, traditionally kangaroo blood. Ochre is used in many ways to represent and symbolise various things and throughout the piece entitled ‘ochres’ it in particular represents – creation, death, passion and purity. Throughout the opening of the dance the first section also known as the prologue is titled ‘paint up’. Within this Djakapurra is cleansing the land before it is danced on.

He then performs a way of ritual paint up which represents the way of the aboriginal culture. Throughout the ‘paint up’ section the colour of yellow ochre is used as it symbolises the mother colour and the earth colour as well as the beginning of the piece. As this colour is seen as the mother colour it could be interpreted as the protector and this is why Djakapurra is using it to cleanse the land as it protects for the journey ahead. The second section within the dance is entitled ‘yellow’. The main inspiration for Stephen page to create a section entitled this is female energy.

The section is performed entirely by female with movements in relation to the way females act, work and live throughout the aboriginal culture. The colour yellow represents creation which can then be liked to mother earth, female energy and then to the creation of new life through birth. Yellow also represents first light and also a new day which is also linked to birth. The emotions of yellow are happy, joyous, calm and serene which are all linked back to the main non literal interpretations through childhood beginnings.

The specific movements that show the use of yellow as a non literal interpretation include the cradling of a baby by all four dancers, which shows the link to motherly instincts, creation and birth. The cleansing of the body by the stream also shows morning rituals and the connection to first light and new day. The non-specific movements that show the use of yellow as a non literal interpretation include much of the floor work. The dancers came from the ground; they came from a connection with mother earth on a new day.

Waking up as they start close to the ground the movements at the beginning of the section are slow and gentle and not rigid which is just like the colour yellow. The use or rounded shapes in their torso’s, arms and legs showed that there was little stress and a calmness to the movement and the female energy and mother earth which is also linked to the colour yellow and also back to ‘the paint up’. The third section within the dance is entitled ‘black’. The main inspiration for this section was male energy and men’s ‘’business’’.

This section links to yellow as it shows 2 contrasts – night and day/women and men. The section is solely based around hunting and protecting the male spirit. There is a stick dance near the beginning of the section which represents a war dance that shows the men competing for hunting grounds and to have the right over landmarks and knowledge. The section is performed by four male dancers dressed in black long pants with props such as traditional weapons and camouflage. The colour black represents Death which is then linked to hunting or could also be linked to mourning.

The emotion shown through the colour black could often be depressing and sad as a life is lost or a battle is lost but also happiness as one life is lost to save another. The specific movements that show black through a non literal interpretation include hiding as to not disturb their prey. As the colour black is linked to death and hunting the section shows many parts where the men are hiding in camouflage as not to disturb or startle their prey. The use of weapons as a prop also shows this.

There are also many moments of animal mimicry including mimicking a kangaroo, through jumps of easy, effortless motion, the swatting of flies throughout the section and also the acting of butterflies. Animals are linked to the colour black via death and hunting. The non-specific movements that show black through a non literal interpretation include such things as the animal interpretations also. The jump between a human catching their prey and scared animal continues throughout the entire section and so too does the rigid movements.

The rigid movements are linked to male qualities which includes hunting according to aboriginal culture. Many of the movements throughout the section are rigid with such things including flexed feet, stiff arms and legs as well as having very masculine jumps scattered throughout the section. The fourth section within the dance of ‘ochres’ is ‘red’. The main inspiration for this section to be created was relationships and having to fight and struggle for love and the danger portrayed behind all of that. This section is outcast as it is a cycle of its own.

It is also inspired by contemporary social issues including – Youth – those who were brought up in their own back yard and live from the land, obsession – the energy between the male and female, the sexual tension and power they have within the relationship, poison – not being able to contact or connect, and finally pain – the way men and women nurse each other when they know that death is on the horizon. This section is performed by 2 girls and 1 male where the female are wearing long red dresses and the male is wearing long red pants with a red jumper as a prop.

The prop of the jumper is used throughout the section to symbolise an everlasting connection that keeps bringing humans together whilst the colour symbolises the struggles and the passion. The colour red has many non literal representations which include relationships which are then linked to struggle, pain, anger, passion, danger, customs and values. The emotion shown through the colour red is heartbreak, caring, passion and pain which all strongly link back to the main non literal interpretation of relationships.

The use of the colour red as a non literal representation is shown through many specific movements between the 3 dancers including the holding o the jumper to keep the male and female together. The holding of the jumper represented the struggle that the couple was going through and the pain and heartache it was bringing them to struggle to keep the relationship and stay together and support each other. It showed us the passion and lust that the pair had as the connections between their eyes as they met for the lifts and also the representation of obsession.

Some of the non-specific movements that show us a non literal interpretation of the colour red include their togetherness. The movements were always in sync and the up movements were light with many lifts showing the passion and connection the pair had. There were areas in the music where you could hear hushing and a female was taking care of a male as death loomed upon him, this shows connection and true passion and the pain the pair is going through which is non literally represented by the colour red. The final section within ‘ochres’ is entitled ‘white’.

The main inspiration for this section is the spirit world and the connection between the spirits, the energies, the land and silence. This section follows on as it is the end and waht occurs after life/ after morning and night. There are 3 males within this section and 4 female but there are different sets of these dancing at different times. The costumes are all uniform white shorts with white ochre paint covering their bodies. The colour white symbolises purity, spirituality, energies, guiding to a new day, silence and the land.

The emotions of this colour are extreme with the aspect of sadness for a small relation to death and also happiness through spirituality and a connection with the spiritual aspects of the land. The specific movements within the section of ‘white’ that show non literal representations include when Djakapurra rises from beneath the mound whilst all other dancers are lying silent around the mound. This is a representation of a respect for death and the moments silence in this section represents that nature is reborn through the darkness and through the spirits arising from the land.

Within this section the dancers are paying respect to the spirits so when they come together the white is also a representation of their energies coming together. The non-specific movements used within this section that show non-literal representation of the colour white include low grounded movements that are often soft with sharp climaxes this shows the distortion of the energies and also the lifts and repetitions in conjunction with the low grounded movements and rolls on the ground show a connection with spirit orld. At the beginning during yellow it is all about the creation and new life etc whilst white is about settling the land and singing a cleansing song to send the earth and Mother Nature and also the spirits back to sleep. Throughout the dance production of ‘ochres’ there is also a motif using the ochre which is wiping the ochre across the forehead. This action represents protection.

In the paint up it was used to show protection of the land and its people, in yellow it was used to shoe protection of the women as they carried out the motherly duties, in black it was used to show protection of the men as they went hunting, in red it was used to show protection of the passing male and in white it was used to show protection of the spirits and their ancestors. Within this motif the colours represent the emotion and non literal representation in which the motif is relating to which was further explained above. As explained ‘ochres’ is by no means a literal interpretation but rather the awareness of its spiritual significance.


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