Guruman Dancers head to Taiwan and Scotland taking and talking dance!

When Fred Leone isn’t busy curating Clancestry and working as a guest director for Black Arm Band, you can find him revitalizing cultural practices as Artistic Director of the Guruman Dancers (Guruman meaning Kangaroo in Butchella). Fred is an Aboriginal, Tongan and South-Sea Islander man from the Garawa people of Far North West Queensland into the Northern Territory, and the Butchella mob of Fraser Coast.

Recently we caught up with BlakDance member Fred, to hear more about the Guruman Dancers who are heading off overseas to Taiwan and Scotland this year.

“Our traditional dance group Guruman Dancers have been invited to perform at the Global Indigenous Peoples Performing Arts Festival in Taipei, Taiwan. We will be taking part in a cultural exchange with the Amis (Indigenous peoples of Taiwan),”Fred said. As well as performing in July, the group will be holding workshops and engaging in conversations around traditional and contemporary arts practice.

Interestingly, in this funding landscape, the group have committed to going on this journey without funding support. The Guruman Dancers have approached two potential sponsors for this exchange, however no funding has been confirmed. Regardless of this, the Guruman Dancers are still going and the group is considering applying to the next round of Australia Council funding.

The story of this cultural exchange came about through a connection Fred made while on an earlier trip to Taiwan. The conversation continued at APAM this year, and led to the invitation to perform. Along with Fred as Artistic Director, there are twelve dancers heading off to take part in the tour. Members of the Guruman Dancers come from different nations across the east coast of Australia including: Badjtala, Garawa, Waanyi, Yanuwa, Gungurri, Yugarapul, Birri Gubba, Wiradjuri & Goomeroi.  

The Guruman Dancers have a busy year of knowledge exchange and creative development ahead. After they finish up their journey with the Amis in Taiwan they will be travelling to Scotland. The Guruman Dancers will be collaborating with The National Theatre of Scotland in October. This work is part of collaboration across five different countries called Home/Away that investigates the effects of urbanization on belonging, home, country and land. (You can find the full list of collaborating companies at the end of this article).

Having events that celebrate the contemporary Indigenous dance scene has been critical to the Guruman Dancers making the right connections to tour. The opportunity to collaborate grew from networking at Clancestry in 2014 when artist and Gaelic poet Judith Parrot connected the Guruman Dancers with the National Theatre Scotland. The tour to Scotland will be co-produced by Jorden Verzar and Fred Leone.

Speaking about the collaboration and the work the Guruman Dancers will develop Fred said,

“Our section will address identity within an urban context and explore authenticity of contemporary cultural practice, intergenerational transfer of knowledge and the fracturing that is prevalent in Urban Aboriginal culture but also the parts that are stronger than the roots of the Ironbark tree.”

This collaboration shows how cultural revitalization and language preservation through traditional and contemporary practice of dance and language is central to their work.

Read more about the Guruman Dancers here.

List of companies collaborating on Home/Away with the National Theatre of Scotland:

  • Brazil: Rio De Janeiro, and involve theatre and circus director Renato Rocha, with a new piece to be created with participants from two Rio favelas, working alongside companies Nós do Morro and AfroReggae.
  • United States: Theatre director and Fulbright Fellow Sarah-Rose Graber Adventure Stage Theatre Company.
  • India, New Dehli: The Yuva Ekta Foundation.
  • Jamaica, Kingston: Manifesto JA.
  • Scotland, Edinburgh Scotland: Artlink, Uist and Glasgow Scotland: Artists Rona MacDonald, Gillebride MacMillan and Judy Parrott will work with Glasgow-based director John Binnie and Scotland, Glasgow: The Bangladeshi Association of Glasgow.

From Dana Waranara, Adelaide’s Spirit Festival hosts Waiata Telfer’s work: ‘SONG the story of a girl, a bird and a teapot’

2016 has taken an unexpected but not unwelcome turn for independent performing artist Waiata Telfer.

Having already performed at Adelaide’s Spirit Festival as part of the Adelaide Fringe, and with the prospects of touring to Japan with another production company on the horizon, the Narungga-Kaurna woman with British and Burmese ancestry is off to a busy start.

Telfer says she has been trying to “break into the greater performing network” for years, and after conversing with producers and presenters at the Dana Waranara Convergence in December last year, her efforts have begun to pay off.

Telfer was invited to perform as part of the Adelaide Fringe Festival, and is in discussions for pursuing national and international tours of her solo work.

Telfer presented a snippet of her self-written and produced performance ‘SONG the story of a girl, a bird and a teapot,’ at Dana Waranara, and says this was an invaluable experience to make connections with local, national and international guests.

“At first I was a bit hesitant to go because I don’t call myself a dancer, so I shied away from it.”

“I am a cross arts performer and incorporate other mediums than just dance into my work.”

“It was very empowering for me actually. It was empowering to be a part of that process and to be a part of that conversation.”

The Convergence, held at Brisbane’s Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts in partnership with both BlakDance and Performing Lines, brings together performers, presenters and programmers to look at how they can best showcase and incorporate Indigenous dance into mainstream venues and programs.

“One thing that I really appreciated about Dana Waranara is that dancers, especially the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dance community are very unique. I think that even us as Blackfullas, we miss that, you forget how unique we really are. And I think that that’s what came away for me, that it’s a really strong community that has so much to offer the greater dance performance sector.”

“There was a really strong, supportive, healing and open energy at Dana Waranara that I haven’t really experienced elsewhere.”

Telfer has come a long way from the 15 year-old girl who began acting and performing in Adelaide.

At just 17, Telfer began a solo journey from Adelaide to Sydney leaving her family behind, to follow her dreams of becoming a dancer. 

“Once upon a time my goal was just to be a performer and to be out on stage … and I had no real idea of what I wanted to do with that. I just liked moving and dancing and being exposed to that kind of creative environment. I am now more interested in the storytelling aspect of performance.”

Since then, she has studied at NAISDA, University of Technology Sydney, and CASM, gaining qualifications in dance, music and writing.

She has also raised her children. Two daughters aged 20 and 10 years of age.

“I am a mover, I am interested in movement in everything that I do. It’s the base of storytelling for me.”

“I’ve always been a person that is interested in stories, storytelling, and politics; the politics of being an Aboriginal person in the Australian social political climate. So that’s what drives me and inspires me to create work.”

Telfer is planning to open a new season of ‘SONG the story of a girl, a bird and a teapot,’ as well as developing new projects including a song-based work with Indigenous women in the Adelaide area.

Link to Spirit Festival
Link to Tandanya

Different Scenes /// Shared Aesthetics

Different Scenes /// Shared Aesthetics

Listen to a podcast of artists speaking at Dance Massive 2015 here.

How does the local scene influence your practice? Listen as Merindah Donnelly,  Executive Producer BlakDance and four contemporary dance artists from around Australian describe their own aesthetics and influences. ‘Our local scene is the 600 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island nations, our diverse songlines, protocol, histories and experiencesWe have over 30 contemporary choreographers with bodies of work and over 100,000 cultural dance practitioners. We have a flourishing scene, but most of you (here at Dance Massive) have seen less than 10% of the work of our artists.’ Merindah Donnelly.

Image - Dance Massive 2015

Indigenous artists challenge dance sector

Indigenous artists challenge dance sector

Indigenous participants at the recent National Dance Forum challenged the sector over its lack of engagement with and support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

The Forum, coinciding with the biennial festival Dance Massive, was held at Footscray Community Arts Centre from 19-21 March and featured 154 delegates, representing every state and territory.

Image - Thomas E S Kelly & Taree Sansbury in Wiradjuri choreographer Vicki Van Hout’s new production Long Grass

Emerging International Markets

“Our dream is that BlakDance will be a place our contemporary performers will look to for inspiration, information and support in the field.” This year BlakDance is undertaking a market probe of emerging international markets with a fellowship awarded by the International Society of Performing Arts (ISPA) Congress in New York, Vancouver’s PUSH performing arts market and the Talking Stick First Nations Performing Arts Festival.

Image - BlakDance Showcase Rita Pryce - Warupaw Uu


Lagaw Gub

Lagaw Gub

“Seu Ngapa Welcome Lagaw Gub Island Wind brings the Torres Strait Islands to you.”

Lagaw Gub is a Torres Strait Islander dance education kit developed to share information about the rich heritage of Mua Island in the Torres Straits showcasing the songs, dances and stories of Dujon Niue