14 November @ King Street Arts Centre ·
Presented by Ausdance WA ·
Join us for a discussion on where traditional aboriginal dance sits in the contemporary setting with Simon Stewart and Ian Wilkes.
Join Ausdance WA for a night of wine, cheese and of course DANCE! Our Networking Nights are a great opportunity to connect with the WA Dance Community and expand your knowledge. Following multitudes of requests on this subject, we decided to base the talk on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dance.
Learn about the respectful use of Indigenous cultural material and information about life experiences with the basic principals of: respect, Indigenous control, communication and consultation. This is a timely opportunity to question our perceptions and expand our knowledge on how best to integrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures. This is a great night for all individuals interested in dance.
About our guests:
Ian Wilkes is a traditional Noongar dancer, writer, director and actor who has performed recently in 3.3 and Kwongkan [sand] with Ochre Contemporary Dance Company. He is pictured in the above image with performers Nadia Martich and Isha Sharvani.
Simon Stewart is a celebrated Aboriginal contemporary choreographer, who is a Sessional Lecturer at WAAPA and regularly works with Ochre Contemporary Dance Company. Recently Simon worked with High School Students directly in a residency at All Saint’s College.
Limited spaces are available for this night so get in quick!
Wednesday, 14 November from 6:00 p.m. Doors open 5:30 p.m.
Large Meeting Room, Level 1, King Street Arts Centre
There will be wine and cheese on the night!
Members $10.00 | Non-Members $15.00
Review: Ochre Contemporary Dance Company, 3.3 and Beyond ·
Subiaco Arts Centre, 29 May ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·
Shadows on shadows, a body slowly makes its way onto a dark stage. Is it male or female? Does it matter? In the cramped confines off the mainstage of Subiaco Arts Centre, the audience is confronted with questions, most of which remain unanswered. Opening this triple bill by Ochre Contemporary Dance Company, Chrissie Parrott’s latest work is, in many ways, the antithesis of her more famous choreographies. Beyond is unadorned minimalism – a single performer (the extraordinary Floeur Alder); no props; none of the detailed staging that characterises many of Parrott’s works. Here, we’re presented with the human form – as canvas and tool – and the end result is as compelling as it is opaque.
For more than a decade Parrott has been creating works that make effective use of multimedia technologies. With each successive work, her skills in this brave new world are finessed. For Beyond, Alder’s body is used as a screen onto which animations are projected. Colourfully obscure, it’s never entirely clear what the images are or what they signify but visually, the effect is stunning. In other phrases, Alder whips through the air, a frenzy of muscular movement.
Alder’s years of training are evident in her control of her vessel – her limbs a perfect embodiment of the taut rhythms of the music providing the sonic backdrop to the work. Music is always upfront in a Parrott production (although interestingly here, her musician partner Jonathan Mustard is responsible only for animation) and Beyond is no exception. The soundscape is dense, driving, a cloud of sound that at times reminded me of This Mortal Coil, though it turned out to be something more obscure. As a visual spectacle, Beyond exceeds expectations – just don’t ask me what it was about.
Following this was a sensory feast of another kind – this time on film. Kwongkan (Sand) is directed by Ochre Contemporary Dance Company’s artistic director, Mark Howett. The film opens with four dancers emerging from calm, palm-fringed waters; their bodies conducting the rivulets dripping from their bodies…is it Arnhem Land, far North Queensland? Wrong – Trivandrum, India. Shifting from sea to land, from water to earth to fire, Kwongkan is a meditation on the natural elements. The team created the film while working on a dance work to be included in next year’s Perth Festival…a sequel of sorts to the wonderful Kaya, performed in 2016 by Ochre Contemporary Dance Company. Evocative, sensual, sumptuous…assuming this film is a sort of teaser for the full work, we’re in for a treat next year.
The main event of the evening was Michael Leslie’s 3.3, also directed by Howett. Tackling Indigenous incarceration – one of the most significant moral questions of contemporary Australia – is no small feat, but somehow Leslie and co. manage to present a work that is as fearless as it is necessary.
From the opening moments, we are slammed with reality. Ian Wilkes is exceptional as a man, an artist, incarcerated. I’m not sure how he’s going to last the season – he is unflinchingly physical for almost every minute he’s onstage. Whether crushing his body against the bars of his cell, scaling the walls or smashing his face into the Perspex window, Wilkes’ onslaught sweats with tension, bristles with fury. But then, just as you’re overwhelmed, there’s a sudden tonal shift – a gorgeous wash of classical music replaces the industrial soundscape and Wilkes is dancing, released within.
The ferocity returns, another wave of injustice served and Wilkes is back to slamming his body against his constraints. Leslie comes to visit the prisoner. The two engage in a sparring match that pits pragmatism against emotion. Wilkes is enraged – at his situation, at the persecution of his people, at the rank violence of his nation’s history. Leslie acknowledges the injustices with a kind of acceptance that is deeply sad but also grimly realistic. He wants Wilkes to move forward, to seek his own victories in odds so steeply stacked against him. Leslie’s not excusing the system or the history – one gets the sense he’s just over it. On one level, it’s deeply depressing to witness; on another, strangely hopeful. Wilkes agrees to rehearse the steps for a dance – they go through the routine together, one man outside instructing, the other still in his cell. It’s uplifting and fierce and devastating all at once.
3.3 is based on Leslie’s Master’s thesis – a work investigating black history, neo-colonialism and incarceration. Transforming it into dance that is this transfixing is nothing less than extraordinary, cementing Leslie’s place as one of Australia’s foremost dance artists.
It’s been decades since Michael Leslie has taken to the stage but the legendary Aboriginal dancer and choreographer is about to perform in his new work, 3.3. The piece will be presented by Ochre Dance Contemporary Dance Company alongside Beyond, by another Australian dance legend, Chrissie Parrott.
Why is 3.3 so close Michael Leslie’s heart? Nina Levy caught up with him to find out.
Talking to dancer and choreographer Michael Leslie about the upcoming season of his work 3.3, the first thing that strikes me is that this man is all about movement. It’s another (globally warmed) balmy May day and we’re sitting at a picnic table at the edge of the Subiaco Arts Centre’s lush gardens… at least Ochre Contemporary Dance Company artistic director Mark Howett and I are sitting. Leslie occasionally sits, but mostly he’s on his feet. It’s as though some thoughts and ideas are too vital to be discussed in a sedentary manner.
It’s not difficult to understand why Leslie is speaking with such passion. The title 3.3 is a reference to the fact that Aboriginal people represent 3.3% of the population of Australia, but more than 28% of its prison population. A Gamilaraay man, Leslie made 3.3 in 2017, as part of his master’s degree. The work focuses on a successful young Indigenous dancer (played by Noongar dancer Ian Wilkes), who has been arrested and thrown into a holding cell, persecuted on account of his skin colour and torn between two cultures. Blurring the line between fiction and reality, Leslie plays himself, the young dancer’s mentor, who deliberately gets himself arrested so that he can speak to the boy and encourage him to stay on the right track to succeed in the “white fella world”.
While the scene in the cell isn’t autobiographical, Leslie’s own story also involves navigating two different worlds as a young dancer. Born in north-west New South Wales, times were tough growing up, he says, subject to the racist government policies of the era. “Dance would have been the furtherest thing from my mind,” he recalls, but by chance, a television advertisement, featuring dancers, ignited his passion for the artform, at age 19. “I was hooked,” he remembers. “Taking the initiative, I commenced dance classes at the Bodenwieser Dance Centre on Broadway in Chippendale, Sydney, a school founded by Mrs Margaret Chapple, a pioneer of Australian Contemporary Dance.”
At Bodenweiser Dance Centre Leslie met Carole Johnston, an African-American dancer who founded the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association (NAISDA). One of five founding students at NAISDA, Leslie became part of a growing Aboriginal dance scene, performing with the newly formed Aboriginal Islander Dance Theatre (AIDT) around Australia and internationally through the 1970s. In 1980 Leslie won a Churchill Fellowship, which enabled him to train at the famed Alvin Ailey American Dance Centre in New York.
Leslie returned to Australia seven years later. A co-founder of both Black Swan State Theatre Company and Broome-based dance theatre company Marrugeku, he also began to work extensively with young Aboriginal people, establishing the Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts at WAAPA in 1996 and the Michael Leslie Pilbara Performing Arts program in 2006. He has received numerous awards and accolades for his work as an artist, educator and mentor.
“There was a law called linguicide, where it was forbidden for my people to speak their language and if they did they’d be thrown in gaol. That added to the demise of people speaking language. So when I did my master’s, I looked at creating 100 dance steps from the Gamilaraay language.”
Now 60, Leslie speaks with great anxiety about the future of young Aboriginal people, and one of his primary areas of concern is racial discrimination within the judicial system. An important part of 3.3, therefore, is highlighting the horrific miscarriages of justice that have been and continue to be inflicted on Aboriginal people since white invasion. As Leslie notes, the breadth of these is “mind-boggling” and so, for practicality, he has chosen to focus on massacres and violent incidents that have affected his people, the Gamilaraay. The first of these is the infamous Myall Creek massacre in in 1838. “The fact that [the settlers] didn’t shoot [the Aboriginal people], that they killed them up-close with swords? That’s hatred,” comments Leslie. “Then the second massacre was the Waterloo Creek massacre,” he continues, “when [white people] killed 300 of my people, on 26 January 1938 – that’s why a lot of black people don’t like Australia Day – and all [the perpetrators] got was a slap on the wrist for killing 300 people. Then in 1982 there was the murder of Ronald “Cheeky” McIntosh in Moree, and they shot Stephanie Duke, Warren Tighe, Michael Foote. When they pronounced Cheeky dead, my people came riding across the bridge and you know who’s waiting for them there? The Tactical Response Group. They’ve got sirens going, they’re holding hand guns, holding shot guns, mustering my people back to the fucking mission. This is 1982!
“So the story here is, where is the justice? There’s no justice for my people. What about Elijah [Doughty]? What about Miss Dhu? You tell us we’re citizens, we need to take responsibility. Well you need to wear that too. What they did to Miss Dhu was terribly, terribly wrong. And all they got was…” Leslie mimes a slap on the wrist. “And that’s what this piece is all about. It’s speaking for my people.”
But the work is about more than simply making people aware of these acts of murder and subsequent lack of justice, adds Howett. “It’s also about healing. Even though we ask hard questions, we’re trying to open up a topic enough so that people can discuss it and the can recover from it. There’s a chance for healing by showing the hardest part of one’s life.”
Part of that healing is about reclaiming language through movement. “There was a law called linguicide, where it was forbidden for my people to speak their language and if they did they’d be thrown in gaol,” says Leslie. “That added to the demise of people speaking language. So when I did my master’s, I looked at creating 100 dance steps from the Gamilaraay language. This was not only an artistic reclamation of language but a political act against linguicide.”
Those 100 dance steps, based on the rhythms and meanings of words from Gamilaraay language, form the basis of the choreography for 3.3. “I did a reclamation of my language, of my culture, to create what I’ve created in the cell there,” explains Leslie. “So every word that I chose, there had to be something where I could create a step. Like the word “Muti”, which means lightning, that’s a tour (a jump that turns in the air)… quick, like lightning. Or “barurra”, the word for a red kangaroo, the anatomical characteristics of the kangaroo have inspired this contemporary movement: staunch and powerful with muscular shoulders and elongated torso… very intimidating when threatened. Even being sick, there’s this impulse, we say ‘wiibi-li’, so I used that rhythm, those three beats, and did a movement like this” – Leslie’s torso ripples as though something is propelling upwards and out. “So it’s all very contemporary. They’re not cultural steps because I haven’t been trained in cultural dance. My style comes from the athleticism of the training I’ve had in African-American contemporary dance. So I’ve drawn from the rhythm and meaning of Gamilaraay language to create these steps. For me it’s saying to Ian and other young people, ‘Look into your culture.’ And we’ve also drawn from Ian’s Noongar dance knowledge and technique. He and I have collaborated in making another vocabulary for this production.”
The concept of reclaiming language has extended beyond the creation of this work, adds Howett. “Daily dance class is all in Noongar,” he notes. “What I find interesting is seeing Michael’s way of bringing his dance background and cultural background together to say, ‘This is who I am, and this is what I think about things.’”