Bush, Sadler's Wells, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Ten minutes into Bangarra Dance Theatre's Bush, a group of men writhe onto the stage. Their faces and bodies are marked with paint, their hair pulled into mohicans or dreadlocks. They wear little wolf tails over their leather chaps. This, like the other dances in Bush, is based on Aboriginal Australian creation stories, on the Dreamtime. Yet it's just like one of the meaningless arty bits in Cirque du Soleil, right down to the wordless warbling on the soundtrack.

Bangarra aims to celebrate indigenous Australian culture, with subjects from Dreamtime creation stories to the present day. The company is dominated by the Page brothers, director Stephen and composer David; like most of their dancers, they are of indigenous Australian descent. Popular at home, the company has appeared at the celebrations for the Sydney Olympics, and toured successfully to the US.

After long repression, Aboriginal traditions and experiences are now being celebrated. Bangarra aims to translate them for the stage. Page, with his co-choreographer Frances Rings, faces the problem of turning culture into theatre. Their solution is to use contemporary dance, and here the trouble starts. These dances fall readily into bland showbiz arrangements, just as the music, by Steve Francis and David Page, turns into generic pop/ musical theatre. Peter England's set designs, with backdrops of leaf patterns or Aboriginal paintings, are sometimes attractive.

The evening is dominated by Kathy Balngayngu Marika, a senior member of the Rirratjingu clan. She does a few traditional steps, including a forceful stamping dance. More often, she sits on a platform, looming over the action. The show is a series of scenes, most illustrating a traditional story. As Marika crosses the stage, the female corps kneel, bend and reach - a simple pattern, and one of the strongest here.

Page and Rings have a few striking effects, but lose them through poor timing. One section, called Slither, has a group of women with lamps, following a slithering man in chain-mail lycra. The lamps make an appealing picture, but the scene goes on far too long.

Bangarra is known for its insistence on sources, its care for respect and authenticity. Page and his collaborators certainly mean well. That doesn't save Bush from glibness.

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