Celebrate First Nations culture

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The Sydney Opera House will present its sixth annual "Dance Rites" festival on-line next month. The festival will bring together 28 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dance groups in a celebratory digital event with more than 350 performers spanning generations, nations and clan groups.

Wajaarr Ngaarlu. Photo by Bke Photography
Wajaarr Ngaarlu. Photo by Bke Photography

The annual Australian First Nations dance competition aims to revitalise vanishing cultural practices and show the richness and diversity of First Nations culture. It will be broadcast on the Opera House’s digital channels over four consecutive nights from Wednesday 11 to Saturday 14 November, coinciding with NAIDOC Week. The finals, in partnership with NITV, will air on Saturday 21 November. All will be free to watch online and on demand. 

“While 'Dance Rites' is coming to you a little differently this year, it has never felt more like a community event," says Sydney Opera House Head of First Nations Programming, Rhoda Roberts. "It’s incredible to see groups from every corner of the country rising to the challenge of an on-line competition and submitting outstanding performances that tell stories of community, connection to land and overcoming adversity. 

“About 1500 dancers have participated since the festival began in 2015 – and the enthusiasm this year is no exception. We’ve also seen an increase in registrations from groups in remote communities, with many acknowledging the deep cultural significance of performing their dances and songlines on country.”

NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the Arts, Don Harwin, noted: “Though we cannot be together on the forecourt to celebrate "Dance Rites" this year, I’m delighted that the Opera House is able to present this significant event online, sharing First Nations cultural heritage on a global stage and enabling communities across the nation to join in this vital cultural exchange.”

Dunghutti Dhariiyn. Photo by Bke Photography
Dunghutti Dhariiyn. Photo by Bke Photograph

Dance Rites 2020 will include performances from:

  • Djakapurra Dancers led by Djakapurra Munyarryun, often described as Bangarra’s spirit man and the Songman for the Sydney 2000 Olympics Games
  • Mornington Island Dance Group, who performed for the opening of the Opera House in 1973
  • The all-female Dyiraamalang (Wiradjuri for 'leader’) who came together to reclaim their dance practice and share it with their community 
  • Luurnpa Dancers led by prominent artist and senior law man Jimmy Tchooga.

The broadcast will include two filmed dances from each group, a traditional dance (either a welcome or a farewell) and a wildcard dance that may fuse contemporary dance and music with tradition. Groups will be assessed on authenticity, reclamation work, use of costumes and revitalised crafts and cultural materials, along with fusion of language and music. The winning group will receive $20,000, one runner-up will receive $5,000, and $3,000 will go to the highest-scoring wild card dance. As well, the $4,000 Rite of Passage Award acknowledges one group’s outstanding contribution to revitalising cultural knowledge and practices.

Dance Rites, Wagana
Dance Rites, Wagana


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