Posts Tagged ‘Indigenous


Up the Ladder

ACPA Up the Ladder

Up the Ladder


QPAC Cremorne

24th – 27th October 2012

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

“Here’s a story of aboriginal people aspiring…” Director, Wesley Enoch

The Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts (ACPA) was established in the 1990s and in 2011 enjoyed a sell-out season of Stolen, directed by Leah Purcell. This year’s final production, directed by QTC’s Artistic Director, Wesley Enoch, is Roger Bennett’s short play, Up the Ladder. The relatively straightforward story of an Aboriginal man rising through the ranks of the boxing world to become a champion becomes colourfully and noisily chaotic with the addition of fabulous original music (Musical Director Laine Loxlea-Dannan and Composers Laine Loxlea-Dannan, Bradley McCaw, Garret Lyon & Alinta McGrady) and dance (Choreographer Penny Mullen. Fight Director Niki Price).

Up the Ladder, as Director Wesley Enoch acknowledges, is a bit of a Trojan Horse. We follow a love story and an Aboriginal man’s quest to be the best he can be, in a bid to achieve notoriety and the means to support his family. We also see the sorry state of our society not so long ago, during a time that kept Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people separated and scared of what might happen should they ever enjoy the same level of “equality” (what a loaded word that is!). The political agenda is brought under the spotlight in the final moments, rather than getting in the way of a good story. Or is it the real story?

After an excited welcome in the foyer from two of the carnival crowd, and a dodgy offer of cheap watches from a dubious character who introduced himself as Shifty, we made our way to our seats in the Cremorne – it’s always freezing in the Cremorne – and looked about to see most of the company nearby, dressed in (1950s) vintage apparel and chatting and laughing amongst themselves. Many in the opening night audience were in no hurry to sit and we wondered aloud just who was in the show and who was there to see it! The question persisted as the show began with an upbeat song and an energetic jive on stage and off, while enthusiastic audience members added their own exuberant cheers and shouts to the carnival atmosphere. Two gentlemen appeared to be plants in the audience…at first. Their vocal contributions continued until well into the performance, when they left the theatre surprisingly quietly. This irregularity was the most hilarious opening 20 minutes of anything I’ve ever seen! Fortunately, we were able to follow the simple story during that raucous start and enjoyed the gentlemen’s antics as much as the early music and dance numbers; however, I noticed a few negative comments muttered by other audience members who were having a harder time than we were, focusing on the ACPA performers (as opposed to those uncles in the first two rows!). I guess all sorts are going to the theatre. And isn’t that fantastic?!

Wesley Enoch has turned this play into a Bran Nue Dae inspired extravaganza. The lighting (Jason Glenwright) is evocative of a fair ground and the design (Josh McIntosh), with its multiple levels, brightly coloured bunting and over-sized posters of Aboriginal boxers covering the upper walls, takes us to a time and place that our parents and grandparents speak of. A time and place we can hardly believe existed. And yet, in many ways and in many places, exists to this day. In ACPA’s final production for 2012 we see that the future of these Aboriginal artists at least, is bright. In particular, the band is on fire, the singers are in fine voice (I’d like to hear those boys sing some Scott Alan), and while the dance component is uniformly good, as it always is at ACPA, two of the dancers are outstanding. You’ll know in an instant which two they are. They have the same exquisite control over angular quirks of the sort of choreography that is so recognisable in Bangarra’s repertoire, and they have the intensity, natural confidence and focus to match that – and any other – professional company’s standards. It makes them very easy to watch. The dance ensemble together make a well-rehearsed and beautifully disturbing impact and in stark contrast, their prowess makes others appear much less comfortable on the same stage. It’s a mixed crowd, as you tend to expect at any student production; some are stronger performers than others. But the overall effect is Enoch’s specialty; it’s infectious fun and inspiring storytelling with a core message of tolerance, understanding, recognition and reconciliation.

It’s a short season and the three remaining shows this weekend are likely to sell out so for a bit of fun and a serious message behind all those bright lights and bunting, be quick and get along to see ACPA’s Up the Ladder.

Listen to Wesley Enoch and ACPA performers chat with Kelly Higgins-Devine.

Up the Ladder

Image by Sean Young



Up the Ladder

Image by Sean Young


ACPA Up the Ladder

Want to train at ACPA?







Bangarra Dance Theatre

QPAC Playhouse

3rd – 7th October 2012

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

The Aboriginal inhabitants of this continent practised sustainable natural resource management for thousands of generations. Their culture, beliefs and natural resource management practices were inextricably interwoven to ensure sustainability and to provide a lasting legacy.

Contemporary Australians are only beginning to understand this strange, un-European land their forebears came to. The management practices brought to this antipodean land have in many cases proven less than ideal and in some cases, simply disastrous.



This is not a show that everyone will immediately understand in a cerebral manner.

The understanding goes deeper. It must.


At each Bangarra opening night I sense a fierce pride permeating the foyer. I love it. Nowhere else in Brisbane is there such determined, joyful purpose in going to the theatre.

Internationally acclaimed Bangarra Dance Theatre continues to forge ahead in contemporary dance, effortlessly raising the bar and begging the question, “What next?” This is the Bangarra I love. Some of our country’s best dancers doing what they do best; superb, sensorial work of a consistently high standard and extraordinarily Australian in all its elements.

Terrain, which is Choreographer Francis Rings’ first full-length piece, commissioned by Bangarra Artistic Director, Stephen Page, lets us watch in wonder, the changing landscapes of one of the world’s largest internally draining systems, Kati Thanda (Lake Eyre Basin). Covering an area of 1.2 million square kilometres – that’s almost one sixth of the continent – Kati Thanda is the fifth largest terminal lake in the world. Recently, the Arabunna people were granted native title rights and sole custody of the lake and its surrounding lands but their origins have made them the custodians of the area for centuries. Terrain is a 65-minute story of individual and collective strength; it’s about identity, sustainability, power, pride, life, death and rebirth. Phew!

In nine fragments, we see moments of change and years of survival. Shields reminds us that the struggle for land rights and recognition ain’t over yet. Salt and Scar juxtapose sharp, jarring movement against deliciously fluid (oily evil) man-made moves. The seduction of commerce. The promise of wealth from those who would exploit our natural resources. The unwillingness of the people to let go of place. Or pride. Or identity. Or story.

Jacob Nash draws on the “subconscious of the country”; life below the surface of the lake, its lines, colours, textures and patterns. His multiple painted backdrops, revealed one after another in perfectly construed succession within an immense, stark space remind me of the basic lessons in line and pattern brought to vibrant life in primary school classrooms, inspired by Wendy Allen’s classic Running On Rainbows, a teacher’s gift from the visual art gods. There is a sense of Peter Elfe’s imagery in these backdrops too (though, in the Teachers Resources, the work of Murray Frederiks is referenced for good reason); the ever-changing, evolving environment at odds with our modern, urban, seemingly unstoppable need to acquire and develop. The sheer size and dramatic beauty of these pieces mean that Nash could quite reasonably put a price on each and check in with collectors of Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s work. The same can be said of Jennifer Irwin’s textural, functional, wearable art. Her structural, earthen cum outer space mineral and creature costumes are runway worthy and perfectly imagined to suit the individual and collaborative shapes of this piece; living, breathing, intertwined organisms created by the company of dancers moving across the stage as one in unmistakable Bangarra style. After twenty years designing for Bangarra, Irwin’s specialty is clearly her ability to create second skins. Karen Norris, in a bid to create lighting that sculpts “the bodies like the land, with subtle light in little to no colours” has achieved a special outback ambience that is continuously quietly changing, “enhancing, sculpting and helping the audience to follow the story.”

David Page has composed a score to evoke the “heritage, mystery, threat and natural beauty” of the lake. It’s simultaneously classical and contemporary and a little bit magical, as if there were water sprites and desert fairies peeking over Page’s shoulder at the time in a bid to keep him honest. The use of spoken voice in Shields perfectly unsettles us.

As we live through the transition of the lake, from scorching, wind-swept desert to a vast inland sea thriving with life and renewed, inspired strength, we see the connection the Arabunna people have with their land. We see the connection the Aboriginal people have with this great southern land. Some of us might even feel that strongly, a similar sense of place and belonging. For those who do not, the collective skill and the organic, sensual beauty of these dancers, caught within the work of art that is Bangarra’s newest production, might stir something in you yet. Be quick, Terrain closes on Sunday.



From Bangarra to Ballet – we farewell Ella Havelka with her last performance on

Sunday October 7, QPAC Brisbane.

Having performed in 2012 at Lincoln Centre, New York, in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, across 6 major Australian cities, and in remote towns such as Maree, South Australia, leading young Indigenous dancer Ella Havelka will perform for the final time with Bangarra in the closing night of the Brisbane season of TERRAIN following her acceptance of an invitation from The Australian Ballet to join the company.

The invitation is a homecoming of sorts for Ella, who trained with the Australian Ballet School, graduating in 2007 after touring with the dancers company. Now after 4 years with Bangarra Ella continues her journey of fulfilling her long held dream of being a ballerina.

Ella commences her contract with The Australian Ballet immediately becoming the first ever Aboriginal dancer in the company’s history. Bangarra’s long association with The Australian Ballet began in 1999 with Stephen Pages’ acclaimed Rites. During 2012, as part of the Australian Ballet’s 50th Anniversary celebrations Stephen Page created Waramuk-in the dark night bringing both companies’ dancers together to perform at Lincoln Centre, New York.

Ella, a descendant of the Wiradjuri people, has had a remarkable journey with Bangarra growing as an artist, connecting to her culture, and performing across Australia and the world. Receiving a Dance scholarship

as a part of the Rio Tinto Aboriginal Fund Professional and Educational Development Program, Ella made her first appearance in Fire – A Retrospective in 2009 and was nominated as ‘Dancer to Watch’ in the Dance

Australia Critics Survey 2 years running. Since then she has performed in Stephen Page’s Mathinna nationally and regionally, in Bangarra’s of earth & sky, toured Europe with Spirit, performed nationally in the acclaimed

Belong and through teaching Bangarra’s workshops across regional and remote locations has helped many Aboriginal children to connect with their culture.

Bangarra’s Artistic Director Stephen Page said “Ella is one of this country’s greatest young talents and as she continues her journey as an Aboriginal woman and an Australian dance artist we wish her every success.

With her exceptional technique, strength and agility, her natural warmth and ability to connect with the audience we know she will thrive with the Australian Ballet when she trades knee-pads for pointe shoes!”

Ella’s final performance with Bangarra will be in TERRAIN this Sunday 7 October at QPAC in Brisbane. Described as a hymn to country, TERRAIN transports us to Lake Eyre the place of Australia’s inland sea: one of the few untouched natural waterways in the world. Bangarra explores the relationship of Indigenous people to country and how landscape becomes a second skin.


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!