yung gun

jane harrison: interview, joshua bond, arts manager

The Chooky Dancers at the Forbidden City, Beijing (2010)

The Chooky Dancers at the Forbidden City, Beijing (2010)

JOSH BOND CAN FLY THROUGH THE AIR ON A TRAPEZE. I RECALL IN HORROR SEEING HIM—LITERALLY—HAMMER A LARGE NAIL INTO HIS NASAL PASSAGE AS PART OF A CABARET ACT. NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF CIRCUS ARTS (NICA) TRAINED AND ONCE A DANCER, LATELY BOND HAS COME DOWN TO EARTH AND IS DOING TRICKS BEHIND THE SCENES, JUGGLING WORK WITH CIRCUS OZ, MANAGING AND DIRECTING THE CHOOKY DANCERS WHILE PULLING STRINGS ON BEHALF OF THE SNUFF PUPPETS (THREE PUNS IN ONE SENTENCE! A RECORD). HERE HE ELABORATES ON THE FANTABULISTIC WORLD OF ARTS MANAGEMENT.

What are you up to at the moment?

Well, the Chooky Dancers were recently in the Solomon Islands where they participated in the Festival of Pacific Arts. In their Prime Minister’s closing speech, he called the Chooky’s performance a highlight. It was their first tour for a while, since the tragedy before Christmas [where one member of the troupe was killed in a car accident].

I’m also Artistic Associate and Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Programs Officer with Circus Oz, responsible for developing the Blakrobatics Masterclasses, the first of which resulted in two Indigenous performers joining the current show From the Ground Up [see story]. Blakrobatics is happening again in 2013.

I have recently pitched a collaborative puppetry/Indigenous storytelling project with the Snuff Puppets…Hopefully the major festival circuit will come on board with the concept. I also managed part of the Body Armour tour. [Body Armour is a theatre/educational piece with a theme around hepatitis, developed by Ilbijerri Theatre Company, which has been touring across Australia, see p10].

Earlier this year Flying Fruit Fly Circus up in Albury asked me to help them recruit a couple of young Indigenous performers for their national training project. They are Australia’s leading organisation in the development of young circus performers, and initiatives such as these ensure realistic pathways to professional careers in the performing arts for our young people.

On top of that we’re working on an Indian/Australian co-produced feature film featuring The Chooky Dancers, which is giving me the opportunity to cut my teeth on the basics of film production.

How did you become involved with the Chooky Dancers?

Big Frank, the father of Chooky’s performer Lionel, is my manyi, my grandfather. My father and Big Frank worked together years ago on the Healthy Lifestyles Festival on Elcho Island, out of which the Chooky Dancers sprang. I grew up with those lads and I also worked with Big Frank with Saltwater Band. When the Chooky’s “Zorba the Greek” video went viral on YouTube, Big Frank contacted me, as he knew I had experience in arts management generally. The response to Zorba was sensational, there were offers from everywhere…They needed someone who could look after them in a way that respected their cultural, personal and financial integrity.

The Chooky Dancers toured to Beijing and Taiwan last year and were on national TV for Chinese New Year, which is watched by all of China—a quarter of the world’s population. They are amazing ambassadors.

What do audiences get out of seeing Chooky’s perform?

The Chooky Dancers are a blend of old culture and new culture. They are an authentic representation of traditional culture and also deliver contemporary forms of comedy and dance theatre. English is their 10th or 12th language or dialect. Traditional song and dance is an essential part of their lives. They have that integrity on a cultural level, so when they do traditional dances they do them with reverence, with respect and with permission from the cultural leaders of the community. If they didn’t, there would be repercussions in the community. They also do western contemporary numbers—like “Singing in the Rain”—which they do with total irreverence. When they are dressed in traditional costume and doing a Bollywood sequence it flips audience expectations.

Why are you doing management work?

I worked in mainstream circus for ten years …it was very ‘white.’ I had to get back to working with my family. The boys in the Chooky’s, for example, get more excited about performing for our bush communities than walking the red carpet at events. For example, we were invited to a mining community and I negotiated that they would also get to perform for the local community, 40ks away. Because the Chooky’s began as part of a Healthy Living program they are very grassroots, and they are keen to promote good physical and mental health to communities. The Roebourne Ngarluma Yindjibarndi Healthy Lifestyles Festival 2011 sprung from that, and we took John Butler, hip hop dancer Nikki Ashby, singer Shellie Morris and comedian Kevin Kropinerri up there to perform along with the Chooky’s. People came from communities everywhere! This kind of work changes lives…it is the best use of my time. I believe we can change the world but that change has to start in people’s hearts. Dance, music, comedy, theatre, books and poetry are some of the best ways to reach people’s hearts. Apart from that, when we’re on the road, there’s the biggest mob of us having biggest mob laughs.

What are some of the challenges of arts management?

I developed a thick skin over the years. Pitching to the major festivals can be intimidating—producers and presenters don’t tend to give you love (laughs). It can be a pretty cold process. Whether you are negotiating with a Chinese TV producer or the Department of Foreign Affairs, it is all about relationships…and how you maintain them.

Where do you see yourself in five or ten years?

My five year plan is to have a better idea about my 10 year plan! [Laughs] Who knows? In ten years I’ll be 40! Living back in the Northern Territory without a racist Intervention? I love performing. I’d like to further my music career. The highlight so far would be performing on Rockwiz with Kutcha Edwards in front of 40,000 people at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. There’s nothing like it! Producing films? Watching Neighbours with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander actors starring! With all of my projects, I love the creation process the most. I love producing acts like The Chooky Dancers; it is one of the most effective way to implement change, to educate people, to change opinions, but also to bring audiences something unique and beautiful.

****

The day after this interview, Josh’s partner Vika gave birth to Maya.

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 15

© Jane Harrison; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

9 October 2012
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