A powerful performance by an indigenous Australian dance company familiarised audiences in the national capital with the Aboriginal people and their culture.
Beginning in September this year, the Australian government has been presenting Australia Fest—a celebration of Australian culture and creativity, including performances, plays, concerts, etc—across India. The six-month-long event aims to build a rich partnership between the two countries.
As part of the initiative, the capital recently saw Spirit 2018, a powerful collection of dance stories, take place at the Qutab Minar by Bangarra Dance Theatre (an indigenous Australian contemporary dance company). The 70-minute spectacle comprised fantastic storytelling, dance and music, with stories drawn from the company’s 29-year-old history. The haunting score throughout the performance transported the audience to a meditative place, helping them understand the deep connection of Australia’s Aboriginal people with their land.
The sophisticated and minimal stage lighting and props, along with the primal dancing, made the performance a visual pleasure. While the opening act, Hunting and Gathering, showcased female dancers partaking in hunting and gathering activities on stage, Black, which followed it, depicted male dancers as warriors.
Among all the performances, however, what really stood out was Dingo in which a young black man expressed, through his movements, what it feels like to be an urban black man in contemporary society, dealing with issues like racism and alcoholism. The performance showed the man wanting to connect with his traditional culture, but also wanting to live in a contemporary landscape, hoping to hold on to his culture while at it.
Another interesting piece was Moth, a story told in the form of a duet between a man and a woman, mimicking the moth. The dance demonstrated the final stage of metamorphosis, wherein the moth comes out of the cocoon, representing the resilience of indigenous Australians. Interestingly, Black, too, had performers mimicking animals like kangaroos and birds, infusing bird calls with their traditional language.
The last performance of the act was In Her Mind, a beautiful contemporary piece, inspired from a 2016 performance by Bangarra called Nyapanyapa. In Her Mind showcased an older woman sitting and painting on the stage, while performers around her brought her paintings alive through dance. “We are not expecting everyone to like everything. But we know for a fact that they would be able to like certain elements, certain pieces, certain sections. These will be part of their conversations, they might go home, do their own research, and get a deeper understanding of Australia and Aboriginals as well,” said Philippe Magid, executive director, Bangarra Dance Theatre, adding, “People come up to me either to challenge our performances or ask about the connotations… I ask them what they think it means.”
Before the Delhi show, the dance theatre company held shows in Purulia, Bhopal and Aizawl to culturally engage with India’s indigenous groups. “We met choreographers and young kids, and felt really empowered and fulfilled after the experience we shared… they shared some of their dances with us… it’s a real cross-section, a two-way process… we learned as much as they did,” says Magid.
Spirit 2018 was directed by Stephen Page, artistic director, Bangarra Dance Theatre, who is, interestingly, an Aboriginal himself. After Delhi, the dance company is scheduled to perform in Bengaluru on Monday, ending their journey in India with a performance in Mumbai on November 1.