Education Resources

Mathinna: Class Activities years 9/10


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 disruptions that occurred as British settlers relocated the Aboriginal people from their tribal lands and 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 whole body and isolating different body parts.
  • Give them opportunities to transfer their weight from one part to another and utilise different body bases.
  • Ask students to use increasingly complex combinations of space including level, direction, dimension, shape, planes and pathways.
  • Encourage students to use combinations of time:  including metre, tempo, accent, and phrasing.
  • Provide opportunities for students to use combinations of dynamics.
  • Ask students to move both individually and with others; showing awareness of spatial relationships, groupings and in relation to other dancers and to objects around them.
  • Assist students in gaining confidence in interacting with others and showing emotional connections and expression.
  • Encourage students to use a variety of choreographic devices including abstraction, transitions, variation and contrast and to recognise different forms and structures.
  • Check that students are aware that choreographers use the elements of dance to express intent.
  • Encourage students’ recognition that dance can relate to its social and historial context.
  • Assist students’ understanding that there are specific protocols for viewing and performing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dances.

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 Tasmania are Port Davey, Flinders Island, Hobart and Oyster Cove?
  • 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 excerpts of Mathinna, be a respectful audience and try to remember as much as they can about what they are seeing, hearing and feeling.   

Students may take notes on subsequent viewings that capture details that assist in describing, analysing, interpreting and evaluating the work.


3) After viewing

Pose questions that remind them of their experience.

  • What is the sequence of movements in section 1 – Father?
  • What is the prop that this dancer holds?
  • Describe the dancer’s costume and stage makeup .
  • 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’ costumes?
  • What is the sequence of events in section 2 and how do the dancers interact with the props?
  • What is content of the voice over? What is the source? (letter from Mathinna)
  • Describe 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.

  • What could the significance of the rock be in section 1 – Father?
  • Approximately what age is Mathinna in section 2 – Nursery?
  • Where is section 2 set?
  • How would you describe the costumes of the women (culturally and historically)?
  • What is the source/s of the design for these costumes?
  • Approximately what age is Mathinna in section 3 – Moonshine, and how many other dancers are on stage in this scene?


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.

  • What long-term impacts of imperialism on Aboriginal lives are described in Mathinna?
  • What influence did John and Jane Franklin have on the colony of Hobart?
  • What living conditions are represented (European, Aboriginal)?
  • Which examples of technological development are shown in the dance?
  • What political and philosophical ideas led to the deportation of Aborigines to Flinders Island and the ‘adoption’ of Mathinna by the Franklins?
  • What factors may have caused Mathinna’s death 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 thing he holds?
  • Why does Mathinna need to put on socks and shoes?
  • What instrument does the dancer who represents Lady Jane ‘play’?
  • How can you tell that Mathinna is still quite young?
  • Describe her movements.  Does she look comfortable?
  • Why does the dancer Elma Kris look so different in sections 2 and 3? What has happened to her character?
  • Describe the use of space in section 3.  What is the significance of the change in levels?
  • Describe the movements of the other dancers in red. In what way are they supporting the soloist? Draw the spatial relationships in this section.
  • What is the relationship between the dancers and the audience? Do any of the dancers look at the audience? Why?
  • Analyse the structure of these three sections of the dance with reference to use of:
    • specific movement vocabulary (eg literal and nonliteral)
    • space (eg groupings, pathways, size, and level)
    • structure (choreographic devices) and how they contribute to the intentions of the  choreographer.

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?
  • Which language is the voice-over speaking? What are some key aspects of this text?
  • What colour is the doll’s dress? Why is this significant?
  • Describe the features of the soundtrack in each section?
  • What might the glass jars represent in section 3?
  • Why do the other dancers’ costumes match Mathinna’s? What/who might they symbolise?
  • Mathinna removes her dress. What is the significance of this use of a costume?

Societies and Cultures

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

  • Why might the choreographer have chosen to develop the dance based on the story of the Aboriginal girl Mathinna?
  • From the sections you have viewed evaluate how successfully Steven Page achieved this.
  • 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).
  • Abstract these movements (eg make them larger, remove or add repetitions, use different body parts).
  • Pretend to hold an object which is precious to you.  Show its size and weight in the way that you hold it.
  • Explore movements which describe different activities.  Ask if another person can guess what you are doing.
  • Abstract these movements by altering the dynamics of the movement.
  • Turn non-locomotor movements into locomotor movements.
  • Experiment with moving on different levels.
  • Respond to words as stimulus for movement (eg run, jump, catch, slide, wobble).

Transfer and apply information in one setting to enrich another.

  • Write a letter to someone you know describing a new experience or place that you have experienced.
  • Underline all the verbs in your letter then use these verbs as stimulus for movement, keeping in mind their meaning in the context of your letter.
  • Experiment with a mixture of whole body movements and isolations, locomotor and non locomotor.  Try to avoid using movements from a specific genre.

Make dance sequences.

  • Select your favourite movements maintaining the original order and a variety of body actions.  Being aware of your breath, form these into phrases of movement which flow comfortably together.  Repeat these phrases so that you are able to perform them in the same way each time. Link phrases into longer sequences where appropriate. Is there still any link with your letter or has a new meaning developed?
  • Teach one of your sequences to another student or small group.
  • Record your sequences using your own notation.

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

  • Explore the potential of text based accompaniment.
  • Experiment with making and performing your sequence/s to an audio recording of your letter. Allow the words to ‘coexist’ with the movement rather than attempting to match them up.
  • Try saying the words at the same time as you perform them.
  • Vary the relationship by altering the dynamics of the text and/or the movement.
  • Incorporate text with other found sounds and/or music.

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?
  • Develop a duo which involves two different sets of words.
  • Allow yourselves to cross or interrupt each other’s sequences.
  • 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.

  • Utlise another person’s list of verbs or completely reorder your own.  Develop a sequence using the same processes as you did for your own set.
  • How different is it to work with words that lack a context?

Communicate ideas through art works.

  • Combine several different dance sequences to show different ideas or emotions.
  • Place them in an order which helps the audience understand the narrative or as a contrast experiment with using unrelated or non literal movement ideas.

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

  • If you are communicating a story in your dance, is it clear? Reflect on this order to see if you now have a clear beginning, middle and end.
  • Alter the order to improve the transitions between each sequence.
  • If you are working with a non lliteral sequence, is it still necessary to have a beginning middle and end?
  • Perform your dance to another group. Ask them what they saw and they felt when they watched your dance.  Did they see a story, series of events or an idea?  Could they see different actions without being aware of a specific narrative?

Explain and justify ideas and outcomes

  • How would you describe your dance? Write a short statement of intent?
  • How is the movement of the body used to represent your intention?
  • How did the dancers use space and dynamics to create the ideas/feelings in this dance?
  • How did you incorporate text into the accompanying soundtrack?
  • What kind of costume could you make or choose to enhance your dance?  Why have you made this choice?
  • What could you learn from using text as a stimulus for movement?
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.


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