FIRST NATIONS DIALOGUES Lenapehoking New York 5 - 12 january 2018


Read the essay from emily johnson of First Nations dialogues  HERE>>

Read the BlakDance report of First Nations dialogues  HERE>>


The First Nations Dialogues Facilitators were:

• Emily Johnson, Catalyst

• Lee-Ann Buckskin, Deputy Chair of the Australia Council

• Paola Balla, artist, curator

• Angela Flynn, Kukuni Arts

• BlakDance

• Vallejo Gantner, Artistic Director

In 2018 we developed partners and allies to mobilise and profile First Nations Performing Arts in North America. It began with building dialogue and relationship through a carefully curated program of workshops and thematics.

The First Nations Dialogues New York was an Indigenous led, gathering of artists, presenters, curators and producers held across various locations in New York from the 5th - 12th January 2018. We build on decades of First Nations sector gatherings and organising by our Elders and practitioners who have contributed a lifetime of work to enable these important gatherings to take place.

The First Nations Dialogues explored opportunities for a new four-year strategy of engagement, collaboration, exchange and expression.

Australian and North American First Nations performing arts sector:

• Capacity Building: nuts and bolts of operating within international nonIndigenous markets - what they are, how they operate, what is the tone/ opportunity and who gets cut through and why

• Sector Development: create a network amongst Australian First Nations peers attending the market to work collectively to increase the visibility, reputation and reach of the Indigenous arts sector in international non-Indigenous markets

• Market Development: create a platform for live in-market assessment for future activity and business planning

• Artistic and Business Development: create opportunity and access for Australian First Nations performance makers, with a focus on dance, to explore the New York and global markets, utilise learnings to shape targeted business strategies into the future

• Cultural Development: build a platform for connecting to internationally based Indigenous peers to deepen access to the Indigenous arts sector internationally.

Image by Da Ping Luo for Performance Space (PS122) Paola Balla Workshop The Future Isn’t Colonised, January 2018

Image by Da Ping Luo for Performance Space (PS122) Paola Balla Workshop The Future Isn’t Colonised, January 2018

Indigenous Performing Arts
An overnight success that’s taken 50 years.


Yupi’k woman Emily Johnson from Catalyst Dance, and New York based Australian presenter Vallejo Gantner, have led a gathering of First Nations Americans, Australians and Canadians in dialogues to establish an international platform for First Nations performing arts with presenters in New York in January.

They held a series of conversations and provocations; First Nations Dialogues, attended by local New York based Native American practitioners and Elders including founding member and Director, Muriel Miguel from Spiderwoman Theatre ( and Diane Fraher from American Indian Artists Inc. AMERINDA, who presented No Reservation: New York contemporary Native American Art Movement, with over 60 presenters, producers and key sector drivers. The attendees of the dialogues agreed ‘decolonial cultural transformation was at a critical moment’ Ali Rosa-Salas, Director of Performance Programs of Abrons Arts Center, New York.

New York in January is a priority market identified by the Australia Council for the Arts, every year more than 45, 000 performing arts leaders, artists and enthusiasts from across the globe converge, with eleven festivals, industry convening’s and international market places, it’s one of the largest and most influential gatherings of its kind. One of the major industry events is ISPA, the International Society for the Performing Arts, the preeminent global network of leaders in the performing arts, representing 185 cities across the world. For the first time ever, January’s ISPA hosted a global Indigenous reception.

Performance Space (PS122) joined the cohort of presenters and venues also interrogating the absence of First Nations performance in New York with a presentation from artist and curator, Paola Balla, titled The Future Isn’t Colonised.

Paola Balla, Emily Johnson and Angela Flynn with Muriel Miguel, Spiderwoman Theater & Diane Fraher, Amerinda

Paola Balla, Emily Johnson and Angela Flynn with Muriel Miguel, Spiderwoman Theater & Diane Fraher, Amerinda

Launching the First Nations Dialogues: Bringing the disciplines together


50 years ago Uncle Bob Maza travelled to Harlem to meet the national Black Theatre and the Native American Spiderwomen sisters Muriel and Gloria Miguel. Today, that relationship building practice continues. Having maintained a dialogue with Native American performing artists over the years and touring Jack Charles vs The Crown to New York – presented at the prestigious PS122 in 2017, ILBIJERRI know too well the challenges on the ground for connecting with local Indigenous communities.

Rachael Maza, Artistic Director of ILBIJERRI Theatre Company noted that ‘in New York, conversations around colonisation have been historically, underexplored. But with a recent shift in cultural thinking, artists agree the time is now, conversations about colonisation are coalescing and moving into action.’

Cultivating international touring, exchange and collaboration for the Australian Indigenous dance sector has been an explicit priority articulated by the Australian Indigenous dance sector since the Creating Pathways forum in 2005, led by Marilyn Miller (the founder of BlakDance) and was reiterated at Dana Waranara in 2015 and at the 2017 National Indigenous Dance Forum (NIDF) at YIRRAMBOI First Nations Arts Festival. BlakDance is mandated to enhance these opportunities and provide pathways, particularly for the burgeoning rise of the next generation of independent choreographers such as; Mariaa Randall, Ghenoa Gela, Thomas E.S. Kelly, Carly Sheppard, Joshua Pether, Amrita Hepi, Eric Avery, Taree Sainsbury, Ngioka Bunda Heath, Henrietta Baird, Joel Bray, Katina Olsen, Sinsa Mansell and many more.

Merindah Donnelly, Executive Producer of BlakDance says;

“The Next Gen of Indigenous choreographers coming out of the Australian Indigenous dance sector are dynamic and hungry, their work is extraordinary. They should be prolific in the national touring circuit here in Australia, and given the opportunity, they could crack the New York scene. This strategy is about enabling a future where our artists are being presented at the pinnacle of contemporary arts. We are laying the tracks for this to happen in 2-5 years’ time.”

The First Nations Dialogues seeks to empower the Indigenous Performing Arts sector through the building of relationships with North American First Nations arts communities and the broader market. The companies hope this is the start of what will develop into a long term, four year strategy for the Australian Indigenous performing arts sector, that involves not just industry-focused exchange, but brings cultural and social exchange between First Nations artists across continents.

This strategy comes at a time when New York institutions are engaging in conversations about appropriation and authorship, not only from African American perspectives but from Native American views as well (

Attendees of the First Nations dialogues, New york 2018

Lee-Ann Tjunypa Buckskin – Australia Council for the Arts

Paola Balla – Artist, Curator, Writer and Lecturer

Merindah Donnelly – BlakDance

Jermaine Beezley – ILBIJERRI Theatre Company

Angela Flynn – Kukuni Arts

Ben Graetz – Independent Producer

SJ Norman – Independent Artist

Vallejo Gantner – Independent Presenter

Collette Brennan – Abbotsford Convent

Judy Harquail – Ontario Presents

Emily Johnson – Catalyst

Rulan Tangen – Dancing Earth


Quita Sullivan – New England Foundation of the Arts (NEFA)

Andre Bouchard – Walrus Arts Management and Consulting, LLC

Muriel Miguel – Spiderwoman Theater

Deborah Ratelle – Spiderwoman Theater

Lulani Arquette – Native Arts and Cultures Foundation

Martha Redbone – Independent producer

Lenape Centre

Sandra Laronde – Red Sky Performance

JJ Lind – Independent producer

Ryan Cunningham – Independent producer

Diane Fraher – Amerinda

Cynthia Lickers-Sage – Kaha:wi Dance

APAM | Brisbane Powerhouse

Performance Space 122

Henry Street Settlement

Danspace Project

Abrons Arts Center

Tommy Kriegsmann - ArKtype

Gibney Dance

Elsie Management

Western Arts Alliance

Melbourne Fringe

Performing Lines


National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)

Canada Council for the Arts

International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA)

Hopkins centre for arts

Ontario Presents

Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA)


Los Angeles Performance Practice

Mellon Foundation

Walrus Arts Management and Consulting, LLC

La Mama NY

DanceHouse Vancouver

Embassy of Australia, Washington DC

Vera List Center for Art and Politics


Safe Harbors

MAP Fund

Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre

Imaginary Theatre

Jerome Foundation

Ping Chong + Company

Michèle Steinwald – Independent

Karen Fischer – Pasifika Artists