August 6, 2013

BANGARRA’S YEAR OF ACHIEVEMENTS RECOGNISED IN A WEEK OF AWARDS

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Over the past week, the Australian arts industry has recognised the outstanding artistic achievements of Bangarra Dance Theatre and its artists, with four awards across the Helpmanns, Australian Arts in Asia Awards and last night’s Australian Dance Awards.

On Monday July 29 2013, Bangarra Dance Theatre received two Helpmann Awards at the prestigious Sydney Opera House ceremony. Dancer Deborah Brown was awarded the Helpmann for Best Female Dancer in a Dance or Physical Theatre work for her performance in the 2012 work Terrain. Terrain also received the Helpmann Award for Best Ballet or Dance Work. Artist-in-residence David Page was also nominated for Best Original Score for Terrain.

On Thursday August 1 2013, the inaugural Australian Arts in Asia Awards took place at Luna Park in Sydney, recognising Australian artists who have engaged with Asia and who have contributed to strengthening cultural links between Australia and Asia. Bangarra Dance Theatre performed at the ceremony and received the inaugural Australian Art in Asia Award in the Dance category for their production Spirit and its recent tours to Mongolia, Thailand and Vietnam. Bangarra shared this award with Annalouise Paul for Game On.

Bangarra’s Artistic Director Stephen Page said, “These awards are a wonderful affirmation for the company that we are achieving artistic excellence while we pursue the equally important role of building connections. Whether Bangarra is performing on stage at the Sydney Opera House or a theatre in regional Victoria, running an indigenous youth workshop in remote New South Wales or presenting a performance for brand new audiences in Vietnam, the high quality of our work is what helps create meaningful engagement. During our recent South Asian tour of Spirit, audiences were fascinated by Bangarra’s fusion of traditional culture with modern dance theatre. There was an instant connection with the spiritual, grounded nature of Bangarra’s work and they understood the story-telling that strongly influences our productions.’

Last night the annual Australian Dance Awards took place in Canberra. Shane Carroll one of Australia’s most outstanding contributors to dance received the Services to Dance Award. Over the last two years Shane Carroll has overseen the development and implementation of Bangarra’s new youth program Rekindling, designed to connect Aboriginal young people with their culture through story-telling and dance. Rekindling has been successfully established in four communities across New South Wales during 2013 and planning is underway for further communities in New South Wales as well as Queensland next year. Ms Carroll’s expertise has also been felt by independent Aboriginal artists working with an important sector capacity building program supported by Bangarra and the NSW Government Birrang – expanding Aboriginal dance horizons in NSW.

CEO Catherine Baldwin says, “Bangarra recognises the valuable insights and knowledge Ms Carroll brings to these innovative initiatives, working with artists to deliver significant benefits to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Both Birrang and Rekindling programs provide opportunities for dancers to build resilience that supports their professional career development.”

Bangarra Dance Theatre is Australia’s premier national Indigenous performing arts company. Under the brilliant and inspirational artistic direction of Stephen Page, Bangarra has strived to maintain the cultural integrity and spirit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tradition, combining it with contemporary expressions of stories, dance and music to create unique theatrical experiences, and to deliver these experiences to audiences across Australia and around the world.

November 28, 2012

Dancers’ Blog: on Wiradjuri land

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Here we are on Wiradjuri country at last, bringing Riley home and sharing our work with the mob out here. How special it is to be tracing the trails of song lines through places like Bathurst, Orange, Albury and now Wagga Wagga. So far I’ve learnt the correct pronunciation of Bangarra from a woman who speaks Wiradjuri fluently, and have listened to stories that trace Wiradjuri song lines right through New South Wales and connect with other tribal groups right down as far as Nowra. The company are waiting to exhale with four remaining performances for the year. Not because we dislike what we do, but because our bodies are holding on by a thread. I recently heard that Bangarra may have done more performances this year than any dance company as small as us, and our bodies are feeling it! My back has begun to succumb to the weight of carrying our giant Cooloomun prop, a sign that the end of the year is drawing near and a rest for my body is just what I, and the whole company (crew included!) need.  However, my minor back problem did lead me to a nurturing acupuncturist who not only gave my back some much needed TLC, but also put me on the road to other ways to take care of my body as a whole. When your body is your livelihood, it is important to take care and respect the whole thing….the insides and the outside. So in this sense, a negative has led me to a positive! So onward we go, gaining strength from our art, and of course from the beautiful Elders that welcome us onto their land with incredible warmth! 

Jasmin Sheppard

November 21, 2012

Dancers’ Blog: ‘of earth & sky’ on the road from WA to NSW

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The West Australian leg of the of earth & sky regional tour is done and dusted. We don’t often have the chance to make the lengthy journey to the other side of the country to dance for the West. Although the entire team continued to battle through more injuries and sicknesses, we put on a few deadly shows in Mandurah, Geraldton, Bunbury and Albany. What a welcome we did receive from our Nyoongar brothers and sisters in every district. Our arrival in each town was anticipated, and the warmth was so heartening. I always forget how far WA is, and at times it felt like we were in a different country, battling mild jet lag and being woken at 5 or 6 am by eastern coast callers, thinking it was a godly hour to call (well it was by western standard time!). Teaching workshops to local kids, and adults for that matter, is always a highlight, and lifts our spirits even when our bodies are struggling to push through the last couple of months of a long and busy year. It is energising to experience the enthusiasm of young budding dancers, and we were especially touched by older dancers also eagerly hanging on our every word and giving of their spirits in our workshop in Albany. The company continues to miss our dearly loved dancers Daniel Riley and Yolande Brown as they recuperate from their injuries in Sydney. Sadly they won’t be dancing with us for the remaining 7 shows. Our Wiradjuri brother Daniel will meet us in Dubbo, but we are all itching for him to be with us in our entire NSW tour, as we tour Wiradjuri country performing Riley, our tribute to Wiradjuri artist Michael Riley. I personally feel very honoured to be bringing this work back to country, and I look forward to meeting community and discovering more of Wiradjuri culture along the way. This will surely enrich my performance in Riley.  

Jasmin Sheppard

October 31, 2012

Dancers’ Blog: on the road again

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Our time back in Sydney has been far too short, as we just begin to settle again into a routine of coming and going from our homes, working in our beautiful studios complete with perfect view of the Harbour Bridge and blue waters. With all minds focusing on the goal, we have remounted our 2010 show, of earth & sky with as little stress as possible. I personally think that blue skies and warm days assist in a light and carefree attitude! Over a fortnight we have rearranged the show as one of our female dancers has gone on to other creative pursuits. We have worked around injuries, sicknesses and (personally) too many appointments to mention. And here we are, on the plane to Perth to begin our regional tour of WA and NSW. It’s almost as if the entire company has turned into a flowing stream, curving around any boulders that obstruct the path, and pulling along anything we need to get through the fortnight amongst our current. As summer begins it brings with it lightness, positivity, and fresh creativity. I must say that in 2010 I thoroughly enjoyed performing this show, and I’m excited to be revisiting it again. Bon Voyage once more Bangarra!

Jasmin Sheppard

October 16, 2012

Dancers’ Blog: a visit to my homeland

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Along with our tour to Brisbane came the first truly warm weather most of us have had for a while. I cherished the warm days walking to the theatre, sweating it out in class during our closing week of TERRAIN. After a long season, we pressed on and gave our most for the final week of transporting ourselves onstage to desert salt pans. I personally treasured the chance to perform for a lot of my own family, including my grandmother who turned 90 during the week. We have been given a week off after closing night, and my plan is to travel to the Gulf of Carpentaria to finally visit her place of birth, home lands of my ancestors, the Tagalaka and Walangama people. Whilst performing Reborn for the last time, as I poured the white sand through my fingers and into my palms, I imagined what I might be seeing for the first time in the week to follow. What colour would the earth be? How thick would the bush be as I scanned the horizon? Who would I meet there? And as I felt the energy of the three men dancing behind me and with me, I imagined the spirits of my great grandmother and my great grandfather watching me as I traversed homelands for the first time.

Jasmin Sheppard

October 10, 2012

Dancers’ Blog: Reflecting on Mongolia

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It’s a little late, but an update on our Mongolia tour must be commented on! On arrival at our hotel after dodging potholes and other wild vehicles on the road to the city centre, we were received by a warm welcome by crew from the Arts Council Mongolia in Ulaanbaatar, and quickly settled in for a week in the vibrant city. We were given a day to recuperate and explore the city, and I made use of my first morning in Mongolia by visiting the local Buddhist temple and saying a prayer of thanks to the universe for the opportunity to dance for the Mongols. After talking with the generous women from Arts Council Mongolia, I soon discovered many parallels between their culture and Aboriginal culture also. Here in Mongolia, I believe, we found an audience that, although may speak an entirely different language, connected and understood our culture through a deep sharing of spirit. Our first work day was spent at the University of Arts and Culture where we took workshops in Bangarra repertoire and Yirrikala traditional dance, led by Aunty Kathy Marika. It was a beautiful experience of sharing of cultures and dance style. How lucky we were to also be treated by a showing of their own traditional dance by the students, and also by a precious 80 something lady, clad in traditional dress and emotively moving to the traditional horse head violin. Watching her moved me to tears as I saw her soul extend to us, one with her body and the music.

Our two performances of Spirit were received so well, and we definitely made lasting connections with many people from Ulaanbaatar. Our last free day, spent amongst mountain ranges, rocky hills and vast plains at Terelj national park was a treat for our minds, bodies and spirits, and to perform Spirit again…..well what more could you ask for in a week of work. Bliss. 

Jas

 

October 10, 2012

Dancers’ Blog: reflecting on Mongolia

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And exhale…I feel as though I can breathe calmly, and normally now. It’s was only two weeks ago that we returned from our excursion to Mongolia, and now as I sit writing this at Brisbane airport on our way home after successfully completing our national tour of TERRAIN, my mind is finally able to process the last few weeks, and I am able to type it into some sort of blog entry.

Three weeks ago to the day, we gathered together as a clan at Sydney international airport for our much anticipated trip to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. I was not fully educated on the country, and what we were to expect once we arrived. But what we did find was beautiful, open, friendly people who were so excited and overwhelmed by our presence there. We were given the evening we arrived and the following day off, to sight see, and get a feel for the city. Through my eyes, and experiences, what I discovered was a city that is still developing. Skyscrapers and apartment complexes on every block growing and reaching for the sky, roads under development trying to keep up with the ever expanding car market, and locals on the side of the road with their fruit stalls making a living any way they can. The theatre where we were to perform was situated in the heart of the city, and was an interesting old theatre. Technologically a little dated, but, we got by, and with our always adaptive production crew we worked around what we were offered to make the show look as best we could with what we had. Language barriers were a daily occurrence for the crew, but with the help of the staff from the Mongolian Arts Council they found a middle ground and got the job done. Performing for the audience there was a real treat and rush. We may have freaked them out a bit, with our head to toe of ochre and our blankets, but I feel as though we made a great impression on the local arts community that will linger for years to come. Spirit is such a great show to perform, and to showcase what we as a company are about. It has everything from traditional dance, to the fusion of contemporary, to the presence of Aunty Kathy Marika to help connect the entire through line of the show. Mongolia wasn’t on my list of places to visit, but I feel lucky to have been able to experience it as a country, and get a brief look and feel into their culture.

Now TERRAIN is done and dusted, the next step is to remount of earth & sky for our regional tour of WA and NSW. The first half of the show is a work called Riley, that incidentally, I created and choreographed with the help of the dancers back in 2010. Getting to see and remount it again is going to be a pleasure. I’ll also be performing in it this time around which will be a new experience. Finally I’ll be able to fully understand what I put the dancers through the first time around and experience it from the inside, as opposed to a voyeur, viewing it from afar. I’m also eagerly awaiting to see Michael’s [Riley] cloud series again, projected up at the rear of the space, to remind me of what I created, and to continue to inspire myself and the dancers as we share the story of his images with our regional audience.

I would also like to put it out there, that if there are any questions that you as readers and avid fans of Bangarra would like answered, please don’t hesitate to ask. Sometimes Jas and I get a little stuck as to what to write. So a question here or there would aid us greatly. And we can help inform our readers of what we do in the process. Either ask away on Facebook, or comment on our blog posts and either Jas or I will attempt to answer them for you.

Dan

 

September 17, 2012

Dancers’ Blog: From Maree to Mongolia via our nation’s capital

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From Maree to Mongolia via our national capital. That’s been our schedule for the past two weeks and the week coming up. On Saturday we closed our season in Canberra. I have a deep connection to Canberra as I consider it my home town. I don’t have family there anymore, but a few close friends still live there and it’s where my relationship with dance started. A relationship that continues to bloom and blossom with the years. We were all freshly invigorated and re-inspired after our visit out to Lake Eyre last week. After we closed in Adelaide, we boarded a plane to Olympic Dam, then drove two and a half hours on dirt roads to Maree, where we met up with our cultural consultant for TERRAIN, Uncle Reg Dodd. He lives in Maree and runs tours out to the lake, where he tells Aboriginal stories of the lake and it’s surrounding areas. We were very lucky to have him impart his plethora of knowledge on us. It was so inspiring to see and hear him be so utterly involved and knowledgeable of his culture and roots.

The lake itself was beautiful and mystical. As we stepped out onto the earth surrounding the lake, with the sound of crunching salt beneath our shoes, we knew there was something special about this place. The energy and feel of the area with its colourful land made it feel slightly surreal. There was such a stillness or even a sacredness about it. Walking the shores of the lake I gained new inspiration for some of the choreography I perform. The first being Salt, where I represent the salt spirit of the lake and Kaine as my shadow. The salt formations made such beautiful patterns on the earth and sparkled under the sunlight. The crunching of the salt and the crystallised formations it made reminded me of the first passage of choreography where the movement is sharp, angular and twitchy. The salt also made me think of my costume for that section, which is a bolero jacket covered in triangles to make it look as though i have just rose from the salt planes of Lake Eyre and my upper body is crystallised in salt.

While we were out in Maree we conducted workshops for the local community kids from Maree Aboriginal School. As with most workshops we conduct the kids are always a little hesitant one the first day. They try to wrap their head around having to learn choreography and count music, and it sometime seems as though they aren’t having fun, that its work. But a mutual respect was gained by the second day and a lot of fun was had by all. The choreography they learned on the first day seemed to sink deeper into their memories over night, and they seemed to be absorbing more information. To end the workshops we put together everything they had learned as a little performance for some of the community members and local elders to come watch and see what we had all been working so hard so. Tara G, Jasmin, Ella, Amy, Lenny, Waangenga, Kaine and myself felt so fortunate to be able to be apart of the Maree community for those four days. It is such beautiful country out there, the sun rises and sun sets were unlike any I had seen either here in Australia or abroad. We were super proud of the kids and their accomplishments and we hope they take their experience with us into their future.

Now…back to Sydney, for a little under forty eight hours, as early Monday morning we are all convening at the international airport for our trip to Mongolia, via an overnight stop in Hong Kong. This trip seems like it was never going to happen and it has been in the back of our minds, until now. With little time at home, we are thinking about what needs to be packed and what needs to be bought before our trip, and organise our home lives before venturing overseas. Excitement has started to creep up on us, and we are looking forward to the adventure we are about undertake.

 I had a great conversation with a gentleman at the pub in Maree. He said he was proud of us as a company and the way we represent our country, land and culture. First of all I was so surprised that he had heard of us, but he later told me he had seen a show when he was in the city once and has since watched all our YouTube videos. So safe to say he was up to date with our performance programs. I’ll end with what I told him as we were saying our farewells. We don’t take what we do, what and who we represent lightly. We are well aware how important our work overseas is, and are always sure to give Australia good representation, both on stage and off.

Daniel Riley McKinley

September 4, 2012

Dancers’ Blog: TERRAIN in Adelaide and travelling to Maree

It’s a rather balmy day today, and I’m staring out the wide windows of Adelaide airport out to the greyish blue hue of the hills contemplating the few days that are ahead of us. We are shortly going to board our plane to Lake Eyre, and drive to Maree amongst hot dry earth and quiet bush to teach mob some dance workshops. This is a trip that will surely revive, rejuvenate and heal all of us after a wildly busy couple of months. Our season here in Adelaide was received so warmly and we cherished the full houses, thunderous applause and welcoming community. Bringing TERRAIN back to the state of whence its stories came was special, particularly for Frances, as she is SA born and bred, and has a special connection to South Australia. As does Kaine Sultan-Babij, a Whyalla boy who was so thrilled to be performing for his family for the first time with Bangarra in SA. The haunting energy of Her Majesty’s Theatre, in its 99th year of existence, created an atmosphere of mystery. We shuffled around backstage spreading clouds of drying ochre up and down the old creaking staircases, the wood bending beneath our footsteps. The season brought me a renewed appreciation of being a performing artist, that’s certain!  

Jasmin Sheppard

August 2, 2012

Dancers’ Blog: extra curricular shows and repertoire

Black (Fire - A Retrospective) Perun Bonser, Leonard Mickelo, Daniel Riley McKinley & Jhuny-Boy Borja. Photo by Jeff Busby

Revisiting older repertoire is always a great way to fully appreciate where Bangarra as a company has come from. I remember learning most of Bangarra’s history when we were putting together Fire – A Retrospective. Familiarising myself with this choreography was a great way to really understand and appreciate the development of this one-of-a-kind company that I am a part of. Before we head over to perform at the Opera House each day, we are spending time relearning and revisiting some of our favourite pieces of repertoire for our upcoming international tour to Mongolia. Most of the pieces come back to us quite quickly – we have performed the choreography numerous times and all we may need is to watch it on DVD then a quick listen of the soundtrack, and we are eighty percent there. Teaching the older repertoire to some of our newer dancers also aids the rest of us to remember how steps changed and evolved the last time we performed them. I enjoy teaching the work and passing down all I have learned to those men. There is something so satisfying in watching someone you have taught, move and execute choreography well. It shows that they really are taking in everything you say, and that I can deliver technique, tips, tricks, and the steps verbally and be understood. They are doing so well learning in the short amount of time we have. I hope they retain everything long enough so they can in turn teach it.

Every now and then Bangarra gets approached to perform at an awards ceremony, a national holiday concert, or more recently a corporate awards ceremony. The gig was for Microsoft and was an awards ceremony where young computer programmers from around the world competed to design and create programs for any number of things. Waangenga, Jhuny and myself performed a shortened version of Black, which heralds back from Ochres. This piece is perhaps my favourite piece of Bangarra’s choreographic repertoire to perform. I never tire of it, and thoroughly enjoy revisiting it. It’s like a favourite t-shirt or a tailored suit: it just fits perfectly and feels so right.

Daniel Riley McKinley

June 25, 2012

Dancers’ Blog – TERRAIN in rehearsals

TERRAIN rehearsal. Deborah Brown and Male Ensemble. Photo by Greg Barrett

It’s a beautiful blue and perfectly clear morning down by the wharf. It’s Saturday morning, our sixth day of work this week and we are here to do a final rehearsal and cleaning session of TERRAIN before we all move on down to Melbourne for our world premiere season at the Arts Centre. Up until yesterday I was feeling a bit nervous about our production week to come and our first shows. But something clicked yesterday with our run at the end of the day. The show is feeling whole and complete, more so than even the day before. I’m feeling more relaxed and comfortable with my steps and choreography, and have started to look forward to sharing the work with the general public, our family and friends. At the end of today, all should be clearer and the movement creases should be ironed out, as the big hurdle this week is the lighting and staging.

Daniel Riley McKinley

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