Kwongkan (Sand) – Review


Halfway through Kwongkan (Sand), last night – the final night of this Perth Festival co-commission world premiere – it came to me: Hair The Musical, from 50 years ago.

When a cast member inquired of us, the audience, whether we thought about the state of the planet and the devastating effects of climate change, I wanted to shout out, Yes. And that we sang about it in Air, one of the most compelling of the Hair songs, all those years ago!

For the record, the first verse of Air goes like this –
Welcome sulfur dioxide,
Hello carbon monoxide
The air, the air is everywhere
Breathe deep, while you sleep, breathe deep.

And for all the reasons I loved Hair, aged 20, I loved what the creators, choreographers and performers of Kwongkan did in this fabulous, contemporary production.

I didn’t even mind being preached to a little by a Millennial towards the end! After all, the state of the planet is worth the odd sermon, and the fate of it now lies in the hands of our children and grandchildren.

The setting for Kwongkan – the Noongar word for sand – at Fremantle Arts Centre couldn’t have been better. Looking upward and east, instead of to the more usual west, towards the trees, we were faced with a giant screen that carried the most vivid videos of our local and wider planet. The lighting was perfect. The music mesmerising.

Then the dancing, very free form, began. Magical. You couldn’t take your eyes off the dancers.

The introduction of Aboriginal culture and how Aboriginal people were acculturated upon the arrival of the European settlers was as disturbing as it was historically accurate; as were the rapid environmental changes to the Australian continent that soon followed.

The message ultimately spelled out by the cast and the Millennial is truly food for thought. You can’t eat money. A dead planet has no jobs. We’ve got to take better care of what we’ve been given. As the Noongars say, we are but visitors here.

Fortunately, while the young get older, the young keep coming and challenging the way we think.

Surely, sooner rather than later, humankind must respond as one to climate change before it’s too late for we humans.

Thanks to Mark Howett, who conceived and directed Kwongkan, for doing so. And to the choreographers and performers who made a great idea come to life. And well done to Ochre Contemporary Dance and Daksha Sheth Dance – and their sponsors – for making it happen.

Kwongkan is a wonderful production that needs to be seen again soon.