Bay 20, Carriageworks, 22 November
Following a "Welcome to Country" by Donna Ingram (an elder of the Redfern Aboriginal community) and a refreshingly informal introduction to the show by first year student Chandler Connell, the stage was set for a fantastically diverse evening of dance. NAISDA’s 2017 graduation performance, "Restoration", featured a number of short works. Ranging from contemporary movement to traditional Indigenous dances, the boundary between one work and the next not always clear. But on opening night it was the student performances rather than the choreography that took centre-stage, with a special focus on this year’s diploma graduates - Lillian Banks, Mendia Kermond, Shana O’Brien, Bradley Smith and Jye Uren - evident in the casting.
Taiaroa Royal’s Moemoea – To Dream has a lyrical, meditative quality that draws the ensemble closer together. It was well danced by the whole cast, with Jye Uren and Emily Flannery giving especially captivating performances.
In Shapeshift, choreographed by Frances Rings, moving blackboards give some cast members more to do than just dance, with their chalk drawings coming together at the end as a visual record of the dance – and a reminder of the transience of dance as a performed artwork. The synthesis of set, music, spoken word and video display makes the middle sections of this work feel more like dance theatre than pure dance. A series of solos danced by Mendia Kermond, Shana O’Brien and Jye Uren stood out.
In the second act of "Restoration", the visual aesthetic seemed brighter and more colourful than in the first. Graduating student Mendia Kermond choreographed both an ensemble work for female dancers, and a solo danced by graduating student Lillian Banks, the latter revealing the dramatic potential of both dancer and choreographer. Bradley Smith performed a self-choreographed solo that makes the most of his long limbs. Choreographer (and NAISDA graduate) Sani Townson’s ensemble work combines his movement with contemporary orchestral music and animation. Again, a notable performer was Jye Uren, whose enthusiasm for dance and the light, buoyancy of his movements consistently draws your gaze towards him, irrespective of the work.
Audience members also delighted in the spirited performance of a series of cultural dances of the Torres Strait. The music was played live by Indigenous musicians and the ensemble of dancers sang as well as danced in some sections. These dances were taught by cultural tutors Dujon Niue, Christal Ware, Hans Ahwang and Wallington Kris, with special thanks to the communities of Moa and Badu Island as noted in the programme. They were taught to the dancers on-site earlier this year as part of a cultural residency, and it was heartening to see the pride and joy with which these young dancers brought traditional song and dance to life so far from the actual places and context in which they originated. In this respect the students of NAISDA act as cultural ambassadors for more remote indigenous communities. And it is this sense of community and integrity which comes across so clearly in the shared experience of viewing such works.
- GERALDINE HIGGINSON
Top photo by Branco Gaica.