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REVIEW: Baleen Moondjan

Review by Markus Hamence – Performance date: Wednesday 28 February 2024, Adelaide Festival, Glenelg Beach, South Australia


Unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, ‘Baleen Moondjan’, is a captivating performance that has now debuted at the opening night of the 2024 Adelaide Festival, signifying a pivotal moment for Stephen Page, showcasing his first major work since his departure from Bangarra Dance Theatre. This contemporary ceremony, deeply rooted in the storytelling traditions of the Ngugi/Nunukul/Moondjan people of Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island), offers a rich narrative centered around the profound relationships between First Nations communities and their totemic systems, particularly focusing on the baleen whales.

The Setting

We stepped off the bitumen path and onto the grounding sands of Glenelg (Pathawilyangga) Beach – the energy changed instantly in that moment, we knew we were going to be moved significantly. As we approached a space to bunker down for the duration of the show we were met with the overwhelming grandiose (not in a pretentious way) whale bones standing a good four stories tall (?).

It was a perfect evening on the beach, cooler than the other night’s of the hot week, no wind, just the sea breeze. We grabbed out spot on the mini dunes (and careful NOT to disturb or sit on the vegetation). We were about ten minutes off from sunset (which was stunning btw) and as the sun disappeared, it then begun. Stephen knew what he was doing with selecting this location. He nailed it.

About Stephen Page

Stephen Page, is renown for his unparalleled contribution to the world of Indigenous dance and storytelling, has woven a narrative that explores the interconnectedness of life, symbolized through the journey of a baleen whale drawing close to shore to carry the spirit of Granny Gindara out to sea. This poignant tale, narrated against the backdrop of Glenelg’s sandy shores, is more than a story; it’s a ceremony celebrating life, death, and the eternal bonds that connect us to the earth, sky, and sea.

Stephen Page

The Production

Darkness had set in and the whale bones took to stage cued by an exceptional lighting system. It was mesmerising and peaceful to watch them transform their states due the very clever changing colour palette of the mentioned lighting. A special mention to the seagulls too, as they flew the evening skies their white feathers captured all the light and looks like stars galloping the skies. Stunning!

As the sea breeze carried the smoke (from the smoke machine) it gave an un-earthly, spiritual feeling. You could watch it slowly drift away highlighted by the glow of the neighbouring lights of the marina precinct. It was ethereal.

BUT audibly is were the performance was grounded. The spoken words, the song and the music was an experience like nothing else. Who ever was behind the audio knew their stuff. Filling the large open air beach stacked with many bodies was a feat that conquered seamlessly. It didn’t matter if you were at the front, the side, the back, you were a part of it with the well placed speakers (which offered little or no visual distraction). Pair this with the gentle crashing of the waves, it was magical.

The Performance

Just in awe. It was not hard to have deep feelings of sadness due to the nature of our history. This is a beautiful culture, deep with richness and spiritual stories. The moments of sadness are quickly washed away with hope and joy and the story weaves it’s web around our humble hearts.

The performance is marked by Page’s signature elements of dramatic storytelling, striking choreography, and haunting live music, all set within a visually stunning design by Jacob Nash. It features an ensemble of performers who blend English, Jandai, and Gumbaynggirr/Yaegl languages in song, dance, and narrative storytelling, creating a dynamic outdoor theatre experience on Glenelg’s iconic beach.

‘Baleen Moondjan’ not only highlights the artistic and cultural achievements of Stephen Page but also serves as a powerful reminder of the resilience and sacredness of Country and the stories that have been passed down through generations. It is a testament to the strength of First Nations’ cultures and their enduring relationship with nature​​​​.

It’s a visually spectacular and beautifully told, Baleen Moondjan kickstarts the Festival with a celebration of our First Nations’ stories and culture, the bonds between humans and animals, and the sacred resilience of Country.

Breathtaking and moving in many ways. But, how many Stars? ALL the Stars in the night sky!

For tickets, show dates & times, click here! 🙂

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