Theatre – Black Arm Band and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra @ Princess Theatre 31/11/2013

This review was published on the AU review on 2/12/2013 and can be viewed here.

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and The Black Arm Band banded together for one-night-only to showcase seven brand new musical and performance pieces exploring identity, acceptance of self and the understanding of our fellow human beings.

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is Australia’s internationally acclaimed and oldest orchestra that performs around the world. The Black Arm Band is an Aboriginal-based company that produces theatrical and musical pieces and performances focusing on the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experience and identity. Non-indigenous members also performed with the clan on the night.

The collaboration between the two came forth to assist in increasing the focus on arts and culture when it comes to bridging the gap between the indigenous and non-indigenous communities along with land ownership, remoteness, health, education and employment.

Introducing the show from centre stage was artistic director Lou Bennett, who recounted to the audience a story of her discovery as identifying as an aboriginal. Bennett recalls her mother telling her that this land, Australia, ‘it’s our place, it’s our home’.

With a backdrop of hanging pieces of cloth, Bennett left the stage, the lights went out and the drapes were turned into a backdrop for images of birds, water and trees. All three represent significance to the Aboriginal people in different ways. The performances commenced with two MSO members and one BAB member entering the stage and the trio incorporating the audience into the show with a call and response of clapping rhythms. White plastic bags showered down from the roof and were used by these musicians to create additional melodies. The bags were blown into the audience and remained there for the rest of the performance.

Our introduction to the three amazingly talented BAB vocalists, Emma Donovan, Deline Briscoe and Mindy Kwanten was through visuals of Indigenous persons projected onto possum-skin cloaks. The vocals were performed in five different Aboriginal dialects, as well as various songs performed in English.

The ‘rivalry’ between the MSO and the BAB gave the night a humourous flavour. The funniest part of the show was when some fancy velvety chairs and a chaise lounge were brought onto the stage for an MSO harpist to sit on, as BAB member and violinist Eric Avery (Murrawuy), sat on some car seats amongst a couple of crates. A television set sat alongside the makeshift ‘couch’. The harp on one side and an electric guitar on for the other were used as duelling weapons, mimicking each other and ending in a rendition of the Surfari’s “Wipeout” with four members strumming the guitar at once!

An eclectic blend of instruments you wouldn’t normally see being played together were incorporated into the show, including a recorder and an accordion. And of course, no indigenous show is complete with a didgeridoo solo! It was a touching moment for the audience when one of the Indigenous performers sat on the makeshift car seat couch watching a fuzzy telly that was showing ‘white’ people talk about the negativity of having Aboriginals in the community. You sat there wondering what was going through his head seeing all those people say nasty things about Australia’s native inhabitants.

A song about freedom capped off the night with a backdrop of black with FREEDOM in white writing remaining long after the performers left the stage.
Overall, the show was a joy to watch, however I feel that if it had not been for me reading the program to see what the show, I wouldn’t have been able to gain from the story what the performers were trying to convey.

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