Posts Tagged ‘bundjalung





Thomas E S Kelly

Supercell Festival of Contemporary Dance Brisbane

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

February 18 2018


Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway



… I speak through the lens of a dancer and creator. But I also speak through the lens of my ancestors, the Bundjalung and Wiradjuri people … I share my culture, which was also theirs through the songs, stories, and dances I create, all inspired by the land of which I have ancestral custodianship.


Rather than sitting by and letting the ancestral stories of past, present and future dissolve, I share them with everyone who is listening and willing to learn.


Thomas E S Kelly

My art. My culture. Our country.


[Mis]conceive aims to expose contemporary misunderstandings of Indigeneity and to create understandings instead. The multitalented Thomas E S Kelly is the choreographer, one of the four performers, and composer of the music. Co-performers are Caleena Sansbury, Taree Sansbury and Natalie Pelarek. Alethea Beetson is the dramaturg.


[Mis]conceive was the final main stage work to be performed as part of the Supercell Contemporary Dance Festival in Brisbane this year. Originally created for the Next Wave Festival in 2016, it runs for 50 minutes.


Kamilaroi Elder Bob Weatherall introduced the performance, acknowledging the traditional owners of the Brisbane lands, the Jagera and Turrbal peoples and their ancestors. He asked us to think about the ancestors and the land, and to walk lightly on it, to be a ‘friend of the earth.’


This reflective appeal led smoothly into the opening scene, where Kelly sits in a pool of dappled light, as a song in Aboriginal language plays. At first wearing only black trunks, he then gets up and puts on the modern uniform of jeans and a Tshirt, which the three women also wear. The dancers don grey hoodies at times and use these in different ways as versatile props throughout the performance.


The choreography combines motifs from traditional Aboriginal dance with contemporary dance and hiphop movement, creating a distinctive and visceral style. The dancers point, prowl, and use body percussion, including stamping, clapping and hitting parts of the body.


Repeated gestures include making ‘talking’ motions with one hand to the other, clapping a hand to the side of the face and sliding it down, pointing upwards with one arm and grabbing it with the other to pull it down. Sudden sharp movements are accompanied by audible exhalations of breath.


The work develops through distinct sections. With the hoodies used to signify school uniform, the dancers put up their hands hyper-enthusiastically, as if to answer questions in the classroom, raising a laugh of recognition from the audience. However, they then show, each in their own way, how it feels for this enthusiasm to be ignored.


In the dim light of a later scene, the dancers repetitively and submissively fold the hoodies on the floor, to music that sounds like the rhythms of machinery. The image is of hard labour in some institution or factory. They put on the hoodies, with hoods shadowing their faces, for a scene in which one of the women resists being part of the group (perhaps a group of people rejecting traditional ways in favour of European ones).


Around halfway through the work, the impetus and direction shift, with the focus now including the spoken word (mainly recorded). Some of the impetus of the previous dance scenes is diffused, but then regathered after this change of gear.



Kelly asks whether you can tell nationality from someone’s voice. He recounts his experience of being mistaken for other nationalities, despite his insistence that he is Aboriginal — other people refuse to believe him, almost as if Aboriginal people do not exist. He asks ‘What am I?’


Kelly’s solo at this point emphasises what a powerful and charismatic performer he is – tall, his movement expansive and full of energy. Complementing him, the three women are concentrated bundles of energy, expressive and committed.


In a bitingly amusing and thought-provoking scene, the performers act out people’s responses to a survey about the imaginary beings they believe in and the (mis)conceptions they have about Aboriginal people. Following on from the previous theme of disbelief about Aboriginal people, the implication is that they too are imaginary. In parodying the racist stereotyping of the (mis)conceptions, the performers show how ridiculous and mistaken these are.


At this point, suddenly the lights blaze onto the audience, and the dancers sit in silence, critically surveying us. The duration of our turn under the spotlight seems long, but is probably only a minute or two. It was uncomfortable to be the watched, rather than the watchers. A lone audience member found this very funny (he said so), and roared with laughter.


The mood of the work then gentled, the dancers going back to the more traditional movement, performed with a solemn joy and great energy. A final spoken monologue was one of hope, of still walking in the footsteps of the ancestors, of acknowledging all history, but looking forward for the whole Australian community, with no more division between black and white.


The abiding impressions of the performance are of a powerful energy, of a strong vision, of humour, heartfelt hope and generosity. The communication with the audience feels very direct.



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