Timely dreaming

A celebration of community and achievement: the Festival of the Dreaming

Marrugeku Company, MIMI: a Kunwinjku Creation Story

Marrugeku Company, MIMI: a Kunwinjku Creation Story

When the Marrugeku Company presented MIMI: a Kunwinjku Creation Story in Arnhem Land last year, word has it that even the sky held its breath. This remarkable collaboration between Stalker, the Kunwinjku people of western Arnhem Land and a number of Indigenous artists incorporating stilt walking, acrobatics, dance, light, fire, smoke and Indigenous music is one of a number of contemporary performance works in the Festival of the Dreaming, the first of the Olympic Games Arts Festivals, opening September 14.

In Wimmin’s Business, Rachel House performs Nga Pou Wahine by Briar Grace-Smith with musical composition by Himiona Grace; interdisciplinary artist and a leading figure in Native performing arts in Canada, Margo Kane presents Moonlodge; in More Than Feathers and Beads, Native American, Murielle Borst performs a tragi-comic routine about the lives of Native women; Deborah Mailman recreates her powerful monologue The Seven Stages of Grieving; Leah Purcell, who trained as a boxer and a singer, bolts through the harsh culture of country Queensland in Box the Pony based on a real life scenario and written by Scott Rankin; Ningali Lawford is back with her remarkable stand-up performance Ningali and Deborah Cheetham manages to interweave a few operatic arias into White Baptist Abba Fan accompanied by the Short Black Quartet.

The plays on offer are similarly broad in scope: Bindenjarreb Pinjarra is about truth and justice the Australian way. Using satire, improvised performance and a strong physicality this work premiered in Perth and is a collaboration between nyoongahs Kelton Pell and Trevor Parfitt and whitefellas Geoff Kelso and Phil Thomson. Meanwhile, Bradley Byquar, Anthony Gordon and Max Cullen perform Ngundalelah godotgai (Waiting for Godot) in the Banjalung language with English surtitles. Julie Janson’s historical odyssey of the Aboriginal bushranger Mary Anne Ward, Black Mary, which premiered at PACT Youth Theatre, is given an epic new production by Angela Chaplin at Belvoir Street Theatre’s vast Carriage Works venue. Noel Tovey blends Elizabethan, Aboriginal and contemporary theatre styles and an all-indigenous cast in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with dreaming designs inspired by the works of Bronwyn Bancroft, computer animation by Julie Martin and musical composition by Sarah de Jong. Unashamedly feelgood is Melbourne Workers Theatre collaboration with Brisbane’s Kooemba Jdarra on Roger Bennett’s Up The Ladder, an affectionate evocation of the 1950s sideshow boxing matches. NIDA students will present Nathanial Storm, a new musical by Anthony Crowley, directed by Adam Cook, musical direction by Ian McDonald.

The street theatre program includes Malu Wildu, a new indigenous music ensemble performing original song based on the Dreaming stories of the Torres Strait and Flinders Ranges. Also on the streets are Tiwi Island Dancers, Janggara Dancers from Dubbo, Koori clowns Oogadee Boogadees, and Kakadoowahs, a new work from four Koori artists produced by Tony Strachan of Chrome.

The festival opens on September 14 with a smoking ceremony staged on the site originally known at Tyubow-Gale (Bennelong Point). featuring large numbers of dancers, singers and 30 didjeridu players directed by Stephen Page.

There’s a strong focus on dance-music works in the festival. For one night only there’s Edge of the Sacred, a collaboration between the Aboriginal and Islander Dance Company choreographed by Raymond Blanco and with Edo de Waart conducting the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Peter Sculthorpe’s Earth Cry, Kakadu and From Uluru. And on the same evening an all too rare opportunity to hear the haunting opera Black River by Andrew and Julianne Schultz with Maroochy Barambah performing in a semi-staged performance with the Sydney Alpha Ensemble; the performance is conducted by Roland Peelman and directed by John Wregg.

Bangarra Dance Theatre dust off the ochre to explore water worlds in Fish choreographed by Stephen Page with music by David Page. Didjeridu player Matthew Doyle, choreographer Aku Kadogo and percussionist Tony Lewis give modern voice to a Creation story in Wirid-Jiribin: The Lyrebird performed by Matthew Doyle in the Tharawal language.

International guests include the predominantly Maori and Pacific Island all-male contemporary dance company Black Grace who were first seen and much enjoyed at Dance Week at The Performance Space last year. They return with the premiere of Fia Ola. Silamiut, Greenland’s only professional theatre performs Arsarnerit, a dance-theatre work about the northern lights; and also visiting are the ChangMu Dance Company from Korea. There’ll be free performances in First Fleet Park by The Mornington Island Dancers (NT); Doonoch Dancers (NSW south coast); Yawalyu Women of Lajamanu (central desert); Tiromoana (Samoa); Ngati Rangiwewehi (Aetearoa); Naroo (Bwgcolman people, north Queensland) and Papua New Guinea’s Performing Arts Troupe.

Visual arts by Indigenous artists will be showing at all major institutions including an exhibition about Indigenous Australian music and dance at the Powerhouse Museum; the Art Gallery of NSW hosts Ngawarra in which artists from Yuendumu create a low-relief sand painting over five days in contact with their peers by satellite; at the Ivan Dougherty Gallery, twelve artists ask, “What is Aboriginal Art?”; At Boomalli, Rea uses mirrors to engage viewers in her interpretations of the Aboriginal body in Eye/I’mmablakpiece; fourteen indigenous artists ‘live in’ and work together at Casula Powerhouse; multimedia artist Destiny Deacon is in-residence for three weeks at The Performance Space Gallery working with local school children on the installation Inya Dreams (website http//www.culture.com.au/scan/tps). At the Australian Centre for Photography a retrospective of works by the late Kevin Gilbert and photographer Eleanor Williams; at the Hogarth Gallery, Clinton Nain gives three short performances of I Can’t Sleep at Night to accompany his installation Pitched Black:Twenty Five Years celebrating the history of activism among Indigenous peoples.

The Baramada Rock concert hosted by Jimmy Little, David Page and Leah Purcell features Yothu Yindhi, Christine Anu, Kulcha, Aim 4 More, Laura Vinson from Canada, Moana and the Moahhunters from Aotearoa and special guests Dam Native and Southside of Bombay.

The Paperbark literature program brings together indigenous writers Herb Wharton, Anita Heiss, Archie Weller, Romaine Moreton and Alexis Wright with international guests Keri Hulme and Briar Grace-Smith in readings, storytelling and forums at the State Library of NSW.

The Pikchas is a week long festival of films screening at the Dendy Cinema, Martin Place and the Museum of Sydney—“no roped off areas here, mate”. Highlights include Mabo—Life of an Island Man (1997); The Coolbaroo Club (1996), Jedda (1955); the Sand to Celluloid series (1995-96); Backroads (1977) and in the bar, a continuous reel of provocative archival footage. As well as the Australian program there are films from Canada, Aotearoa and Germany. Makem Talk involves local and guest film-makers in discussion and debate.

The considerable appeal of the visual arts and film programs aside, for RealTime fans of contemporary performance, theatre and dance the festival holds special appeal in the productions of MIMI, Fish, The 7 Stages of Grieving, Ningali, Bidenjarreb Pinjarra, Fia Ola, Arsarnnerit, ngundaleh godotgai, Black Mary, Up the Ladder and wimmin’s business.

The Festival of Dreaming is an astonishing celebration of the achievements of contemporary Indigenous artists in theatre, performance, dance, film and the visual arts. Rhoda Roberts’ programming achievement is considerable. That she draws extensively on the achievements of recent years, shows just how much great work is available, some of it already nationally and internationally travelled. The addition of new works and international Indigenous guests, makes The Festival of the Dreaming potentially one of those events that festivals so rarely are these days, a genuine celebration rooted in a coherent yet remarkably diverse Indigenous culture staged with a sense of the present, of achievement and with an optimism especially needed at a dark political moment.

The Festival of the Dreaming; Artistic Director, Rhoda Roberts, Sydney, September 14-October 6

RealTime issue #20 Aug-Sept 1997 pg. 31

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

1 August 1997
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