Bangara Dance Theatre
November 3rd 2010
It is fascinating how the story of Mathinna has become so emblematic, holding the appalling treatment of the Tasmanian aboriginals before our conscience. Fascinating, especially, given that Mathinna's life was so unusual. Adopted by Lady Jane Franklin, only to be abandoned when the Governor, Sir John, was recalled to England, the story gives us a powerful sense of betrayal, of outrage at the treatment of Tasmania's indigenous population.
The beauty of Bangara Dance Theatre's adaptation lies in its ability to tell her life anew in a superb marriage of dance, music and technical elements; a tremendously engaging performance with a strong narrative thread.
Mathinna opens with a wonderful use of lighting as we are introduced to the hands, and progressively, the body of an aboriginal dancer, before the dawning of the whole set, a backdrop of intermeshed poles; a kind of stylised forest representing the interlinked wholeness of the aboriginal world. The dancing is measured and balanced until we are faced with inevitable interruptions from the Europeans. And in time, the anxious, wrought figure of Lady Jane.
Yolande Brown is memorable as the Governor's wife – I was particularly transfixed by a wonderful piece of choreography. Making Mathinna's striking red dress, she is drawn into the sewing machine's activity in a jerky, mechanical series of movements, constructing the 'civilised' Mathinna before us.
Indeed, fine choreography is well-realised throughout in a fresh, arresting and fast-paced series of scenes that tell the major parts of the story – from Mathinna's exhibition on a pedestal, in a frame, as society visitors parade around her, to the malevolence of her eventual rapists.
Elma Kris as Mathinna is a passive figure throughout the performance, staring from the stage or trying to adapt herself to the activity around her; we are struck by the unfairness of it all, the unreasonableness, and ultimately the tragedy of a lost woman drawn from a life of her own and thrown into increasingly degrading worlds, not of her making.