Re-visiting The Dreaming

Hi, I’m Xanthe and it has been 6 days since my last post.

I have been pondering the nature of a comment from a reader *quietly celebrates having a reader* that came as quite a shock to me. Seriously, the accusations are fierce and I’m dismayed and surprised that anybody could have taken offence to my last post in quite the way that they have, considering that my criticism was entirely artistic and not intended to be a racial slur. Sadly, somebody considers my comments to be evidence that “Systemic, vile racism is well and truly alive…” Sadly, that person is one whom I admire and respect.

In the same sense that I hope our annual, national Sorry Day has started to open the channels of communication  between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians (as well as starting to close some of the gaps made specific in Reconciliation Australia’s Position Paper), I hope that those offended will accept my apology, as any offence was unintentional. Like Sorry Day, this little post is intended as a small step towards reconciliation, in this case, between myself and the Doomadgee mob, with whom I had previously had the ambition and the audacity to think that I might be privileged at some stage to work…though not now, it seems! Regardless, I’m sorry that my words have been misconstrued by those who generously shared their unique culture with us at The Dreaming Festival (and by one who, in fact, laid the foundation for it), which was held recently, to celebrate indigenous culture from all over the world.

Probably unfortunately for me, I stand by my observations that, with a little early artistic direction, a healthy respect for and a thorough understanding of the Doomadgee culture and traditions, it is certainly possible to get a critically and publicly acclaimed show together…not unlike this one (or nothing like this one, if that is the intention)!

No doubt, by making this comparison I will again attract criticism from those who insist on being offended by my personal opinion.

Meanwhile, let me tell you why I absolutely LOVE these guys (one of whom is Stephen Page). 2009’s YouTube sensation, The Chooky Dancers created, out of their own dance and story-telling traditions, a cheeky, comical, well-rehearsed and well-delivered indigenous dance fusion performance; a clever, fun, tongue-firmly-in-cheek version of several recognisable dance styles and “stories.” What a brilliant way to cast a positive light on a culture that, along with those other cultures, we co-exist with. We live in a great big melting pot of wonderful people and while festivals like The Dreaming provide a place to gather and celebrate, perhaps some of the focus needs to shift back to the concept of sharing. Yes, I know it was there – the sharing – of course we saw and experienced the sharing of many aspects of many different cultures, via the performances, the workshops, the panels, the forums, the merchandise, the stalls and the food on offer. I wonder though, is it possible to bring about some of that in co-operation between indigenous and non-indigenous artists…I’m talking about actual creative collaborations so that the audiences as well as the artists get the best of both worlds. I will also re-state that our school curriculum (I’m familiar with Queensland’s) does not truly incorporate many aspects of our indigenous culture. The ongoing development of a truly inclusive document is another long-overdue collaboration between indigenous and non-indigenous creators/educators in this country. In my opinion.

Interestingly, Local Hero, Alec Doomadgee talked to NITV about an absolutely inspiring scene, which took place informally, between a number of indigenous groups one evening at the festival (don’t get me wrong; these scenes are not uncommon)! What a wonderful way to share one’s culture in a completely different – and more casual – context.

I can’t help but wonder if an organically created performance such as the one he describes could be key. Incidentally, I love NITV’s

“Awakening and uniting through the unique experience and imagination of Australia’s first peoples.”

Now, THAT’S what we’re talking about.

We are actually all talking about the same thing.

Anyway, look, I don’t claim to completely understand every facet of my own complex culture, let alone the nuances of another (though I will stubbornly continue to try)! What I am claiming is that I believe it must be possible to create collaboratively, between indigenous and non-indigenous people, performances for public consumption, of a consistently high standard, from a place of creativity, tolerance and respect, which promote the co-operative process and the significance of keeping each culture alive and well, without said performances (or the responses evoked by said performances) being misread or misinterpreted as racist or offensive in any other way (an important stepping stone for all artists, in any context, surely, is to take on board some criticism. And a sensible realisation for anybody reading any blogs is that the opinions voiced, just as in a critical review, are those of one person only. If you’re not sure what was intended by a particular comment or post, ask for clarification. Most writers will be happy to oblige…most blog authors I know will be happy to have followers and some interaction)!

So. IS THE JOINT CREATING NOT ALREADY HAPPENING? I say yes, yes it is; Sam Cook‘s first festival is testament to this. Just as Rhoda Roberts’ previous festivals have been and just as her decision to hand over the reigns and take on the Artistic Directorship of the Garma Festival, once again seems to suggest that we are in fact, speaking about (around, over, under, in and out of) much of the same subtext.

Ms Cook had to take over the Directorship of the 5 year old Dreaming Festival at short notice when founding director Rhoda Roberts departed for another festival in Arnhemland – the legendary Garma Festival, which has never had an artistic director before. Sam’s program forward says she had “less than a month” to pull it all together and still maintain the festival’s reputation as a culturally relevant event of contemporary and traditional Indigenous culture, which has seen attendances grow from 5,000 in 2005 to 23,000 in 2009.

The Dreaming Festival is indeed a vision accomplished, thanks to Rhoda Roberts, Sam Cook and their creative teams. Should the visiting creative teams, the clans, the mobs, the families from all over the nation and the world, who are generously bringing the vast array of performances, consist entirely of indigenous people? You tell me. My Sam will certainly thank you if y’all tell me to butt out and leave The Dreaming to those who traditionally know best, as he would prefer that I focus on some of the other projects we are currently working on!

So. Really. I mean it. I don’t think I have been overly critical. I think I recognised the pros and expressed what I believe to be a couple of cons. As I have already said, I’m sorry if my POV offends. Perhaps what is viewed by me as lacklustre is exactly what is expected and required by the people responsible for staging/sharing it. Perhaps it IS the most accurate representation of the casual confidence and unique style the Doomadgee Dance Troupe posses as performers (I was happy to note that certain Opening Ceremony performances certainly came across with a little more lustre)! But who am I to say anyway?! Right?! It’s just my opinion, as an audience member. Right.

Now. Are we ready to get on with the sharingcelebrating and recognising of the amazing mix of people in this country and every other; their stories and their traditions? Because I for one, am looking forward to next year’s Dreaming! Bring it on!

3 Responses to “Re-visiting The Dreaming”

  1. June 21, 2010 at 11:35 pm

    Brilliant. And such a breathtaking pic, too!

  2. 2 Geoff
    June 22, 2010 at 6:59 am

    No justification should have been necessary, but if so, then this is well said!

  3. 3 Tim Murfin
    June 26, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    Very well articulated A measured and honest artistic opinion devoid of any racial overtones
    The misguided “lady”whom objected to your opinion perhaps needs to examine her own intolerant attitudes and get a life She needs to be reminded of the French humanist Voltaires quote
    “I disapprove of what you say but i will defend to the death your right to say it”
    Go for it Xanthe

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