Education Resources

Mathinna: Class Activities years 5/6


Bangarra’s production of Mathinna is based on the true story of a young Tasmanian Aboriginal girl called Mathinna, who lived in the early 1800s. The story tells of her personal journey and illustrates some of the key political, cultural and social interactions that occurred at the time of colonisation.

The focus of the production is the social disruption that occurred as British settlers relocated the Aboriginal people from their tribal lands, intervened in their cultural practices and challenged their traditional values.

Things to Think About and Do

1) Before Viewing

What do students already know and what are some things they can do?

  • Encourage the students to experience moving their body both individually and with others; showing awareness of their body in space and in relation to objects around them.
  • Give them opportunities to develop an awareness of their ability to isolate different parts of their body and make specific actions and gestures.
  • Include cross lateral movements in movement activities.
  • Ask students to make contrasting shapes with their body (curved/angular; symmetrical/asymmetrical).
  • Assist students to understand that movements can be used to explore and improvise dance ideas by controlling and combining different movement qualities.
  • Give students opportunities to know that it is possible to show similarity and contrast through movement. For example: Can they change the size and speed of their movement and follow pathways on the floor or in the air?
  • Provide opportunities for students to practice controlling movement by pausing or freezing, and using contrasting qualities such as smooth and sustained, followed by percussive movement.
  • Have students form groupings such as lines or group shapes, and lead or follow others in these groupings, moving close together and/or far apart.
  • Give them experiences which assist them to understand that movements can be joined together in order to move on the spot or travel in different ways.
  • Check that students are aware that they can interpret meanings from watching dance and that dances can tell a story which may have a beginning, middle and end?
  • Encourage students’ recognition that people from different cultures dance and may have different reasons for dancing.
  • Assist students to understand that when an audience member, it is important to concentrate on experiencing the dance by watching and listening.

Pose questions that help them understand the ideas that the dance is based on?

  • Who is Mathinna and what do we know about her?
  • Where in Australia are Port Davey, Flinders Island, North West Bay?
  • Who were Mathinna’s parents and where were they from?
  • Who was George Augustus Robinson and what did he have to do with the history of the Tasmanian Aborigines?
  • Who are Sir John and Lady Jane Franklin?
  • What was life like for the early European colony in Hobart Town? For the free settlers, for the convicts, for the Aborigines?

Expand students understanding that contemporary Indigenous people participate in all facets of the community and as artists they may choose to communicate ideas based on traditional stories including those relating to animals that represent spirits.

  • Who are the Aboriginal people/s who live in Tasmania?
  • What is a cultural advisor?
  • Who are the dancers of Bangarra?  Where do they come from?
  • Where is the company Bangarra based?

2) As you view

Ask the students to watch and listen to the dance, be a respectful audience and try to remember as much as they can about what they are seeing, hearing and feeling.

3) After viewing

Pose questions that remind them of their experience.

  • How many sections of the full production are shown in the resource?
  • How many dancers are on the stage in section 1 – Father?
  • What is the prop that this dancer holds?
  • What is the dancer wearing?
  • What is painted on his skin?
  • How many dancers are in section 2 – Nursery?
  • What are the objects on the stage and what type of room do they represent?
  • What are the dancers wearing and what are they doing?
  • What are the props in section 3 – Moonshine?
  • Have you seen the central performer in one of the other sections?

Identify some of the main ideas and select and clarify information from the students’ responses.

  • Which dancer do you think is Mathinna?
  • Who do you think the other characters are?
  • Why does one character wear a long dress? Who does she represent?
  • Why does another hold a rock?  Why might this be a special rock? What could it represent?
  • How old was Mathinna when she died?

The dance theatre production of Mathinna tells of the disruption that occurred as British settlers relocated the Aboriginal people from their tribal lands, intervening in their cultural practices as they imposed modern European values and systems into their lives.

  • Which European influences on Aboriginal lives are shown in the dance?
  • What influence did John and Jane Franklin have on the colony of Hobart?
  • Why do you think Mathinna died at such a young age?

Collect, compare and categorise facts and opinions.

Movement and meaning

  • Describe the way the dancer in Father uses his hands?
  • Can you tell what he feels about the object he holds?
  • Why does Mathinna need to put on socks and shoes?
  • What instrument does the dancer with the long dress pretend to play?
  • How can you tell that Mathinna is still quite young?
  • Describe her movements.  Does she look comfortable?
  • Why does Mathinna look different in section 3, compared the way she looks in section 2? What has happened to her?
  • What is she sitting on in section 2 and in section 3?
  • Describe the movements of the other dancers in red. What are they doing?
  • What is the relationship between the dancers and the audience? Do any of the dancers look at the audience? Why?

Non movement aspects

  • Describe the stage set including the colour of the background, floor, props and the lighting (colour, brightness, point/s of focus) in each section.
  • Which props look like they represent Mathinna’s Aboriginal heritage and which represent European colonisation?
  • Why do some of the props seem to be outlined in white and some seem more realistic and solid?
  • What is the voice-over component referring to. What is being spoken about?
  • What colour is the doll’s dress?
  • Which sounds and instruments can you hear in each section?
  • What might the glass jars represent?
  • Why are the other dancers wearing red dresses too? Who might they be?
  • Why does Mathinna remove her dress?

Societies and Cultures

The production Mathinna describes a girl’s journey between two cultures.

  • Why do you think the choreographer chose to develop this dance theatre production based on the story of the Aboriginal girl Mathinna?
  • The performance is on a stage in a theatre. Is this a traditional or contemporary place for Aboriginal people to dance?

4) Next steps

Expand on known ideas to create new and imaginative combinations through improvising, exploring and experimenting with movement.

  • Explore different movements based on daily activities (waking up, cleaning teeth, getting dressed, and eating breakfast).
  • Experiment with these movements making them larger and simpler (just choose the important movements and remove most of the repetitions).
  • Move on different levels (high, medium, low), on the spot and when travelling.
  • Explore movements which describe wearing different clothes.  Ask if another person can guess what you are ‘wearing’.
  • Pretend to hold an object which is precious to you. Show its size and weight in the way that you hold it.

Transfer and apply information in one setting to enrich another.

  • Write or find a story that describes losing and/or finding something precious
  • Use mime to describe the story through movement
  • Travel across the room while you hold your object.
  • Exaggerate and simplify the movements so that the gestures become easy to see.
  • Explore different dynamics as you vary your movements and what you do with the imaginary object, for example, scoop the object into your hand, hold it tight, throw it in the air playfully, run to catch it, and/or swing in around.

Make dance sequences.

  • Select your favourite parts of your precious object ‘story’ making sure that you keep a mixture of different travelling movements.  Repeat this sequence so that you are able to perform it in the same way each time.
  • Teach your sequence to another student or small group.

Experiment with a range of options when seeking solutions and putting ideas into action.

  • Choose a series of different sounds or play different pieces of music to accompany the movement. Which suits the mood /ideas of your dance best?
  • Experiment with facing different directions and travelling to different parts of the room whilst performing your sequence.

Explore situations using creative thinking strategies to propose a range of alternatives.

  • Try performing your dance sequence at the same time as several other people.
  • Watch another group do this with their sequences.  What do you see?  Can you watch all of them at once or do you focus on one then another?
  • What catches your attention?
  • Try performing your sequence close to another person.
  • What does it look like if they are standing still? What does it look like if you are both moving?
  • Organise your sequences so that there is a point where you meet.  What happens if you cross or interrupt each other’s sequences?  Create a new duo section you could perform together (you might drop or pass your object and the other person picks it up and/or uses it).
  • How else could you link or contrast these sequences?

Draw on prior knowledge and use evidence when choosing a course of action or drawing a conclusion.

  • Use gesture and mime to describe parts of other stories you know or are reading.

Communicate ideas through art works.

  • Combine several different dance sequences to show different scenes in a story.
  • Place them in an order which helps the audience to understand the series of events.

Reflect on, explain and check the processes used to come to conclusions explaining ways students can check their thinking and deal with setbacks.

  • Reflect on this order to see if you now have a clear beginning, middle and end. Alter the order to improve the changes between each sequence.  If you are communicating a story in your dance, is it clear?
  • Perform your dance to another group. Ask them what they saw and felt when they watched your dance.  Could they see different pathways, formations and gestures?  Did they see a story, series of events or an idea?  PSC

Explain and justify ideas and outcomes.

  • What could you call your dance? What kind of costume could you make or choose to go with your dance?  Why have you made these choices?
  • How is the movement of the body used to represent your idea/s?
  • How did the dancers use space and energy to create the ideas/feelings in this dance?
  • Which elements of dance were used?
  • What could you learn from watching people and creating sequences based on their movements?
  • What movements could you learn, and use in a dance, based on everyday activities and other cultural practices?
Based on Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) Level 3 statements from the Critical and creative thinking learning continuum for generating ideas, possibilities and actions, Reflecting on thinking and processes and Analysing, synthesising and evaluating reasoning and procedures areas. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia (CC BY NC SA) licence. Accessed June 2013.

Bringing the story to the stage: the creative process <<  |  >> Class Activities years 9/10