Charming and heartbreaking: Robert Reid on Biladurang, Joel Bray’s performance about the cultural damage of colonisation.
Joel Bray’s Biladurang is charming, welcoming and heartbreaking. It makes for a deceptively warm and friendly show, with a gently bitter taste of colonisation.
We’re met in the foyer of the Sofitel and taken up in groups to the 44th floor by an elevator. I can’t help but check the elevator’s capacity against our numbers – it can take 22, there are 11 of us. It still feels crowded. We gather outside the lifts high up in the hotel and wait for the rest of the audience.
The work uses a contemporary dance style without gender prescription: male and female dancers performed movements traditionally assigned to men in Indigenous dance – hands and fingers shaped into kangaroo ears, forearms and hands forming emu-like necks – and both travelled with the light, up-flicking steps more frequently the movement vocabulary of women.
It begins with isolation, with six dancers standing on stage, each alone, each staring at the audience. Each body cocooned in stillness. It’s not relaxed: there is a kind of rigor mortis in their stances, an almost palpable feeling of life arrested.
Behind the six dancers – Amrita Hepi, Stanley Nalo, Krilin Nguyen, Yoan Ouchot, Dalisa Pigram and Miranda Wheen – is a screen that looks like a giant iPhone or iPad, which right now is showing a pattern of green leaves, like those generic wallpapers of the natural world that we gaze at nostalgically as the actual natural world burns around us. The back wall of Nicolas Molé’s set is an abstract pattern of angles, soft greys and browns.
The Meat Market’s substantial spaces hosted two shows for Dance Massive this week that addressed major issues of our times: our connection to land and country and the recognition of First Nations people in society and law. Both were collaborative endeavours, Le Dernier Appel / The Last Cry commissioned by organisations from New Caledonia, Australia and France, and Same But Different from a more informal alliance of Australian First Nations dancer-choreographers.
Comparing ourselves to US artists is probably about as useful as maintaining an obsession with Europe. It is precisely our remote geographic location and complex multi-racial history – including a 65,000-year-old dance lineage – that allows us to evolve artforms with independence and abandon. Live performance can be among the most exquisite rituals in which we can participate. We are pack animals. We need our mob. We seek to understand our place in the communities we belong to. We strive to connect. The balance between heart and intellect is always tricky to navigate – in life, let alone on stage. However, if we exist only in the cerebral, we risk alienating an audience that wants to make that connection.
This year’s festival is also notable for having the largest amount of First Nations work in its history. Alongside work by Joel Bray, Karul Projects and Marrugeku, the impressive DubaiKungkaMiyalk brings together a strong line-up of four contemporary choreographers, Mariaa Randall, Henrietta Baird, Carly Sheppard and Ngioka Bunda-Heath, curated by Randall, who is fresh from a well-received show at New York’s Performance Space.
Montreal non-profit launches toolkit on how to be an Indigenous ally
What does it mean to be a good ally to Indigenous Peoples?
It's something the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network is hoping to clarify with its recently launched Indigenous ally toolkit.
The toolkit provides an overview on terminology, dos and don'ts, with examples of why the term "Canada's Indigenous Peoples," asking "why don't you just get over it?" or saying "you must be an alcoholic" is problematic.
Randall, who belongs to the Bundjalung and Yaegl people of the Far North Coast of New South Wales, opens the work by gathering us — shoeless — in a loose ring for a yarning circle.
This question spurs Footwork/Technique by Mariaa Randall, which received its US premiere as part of First Nations Dialogues: KIN. Curated by Emily Johnson and presented by Performance Space New York in partnership with BlakDance and American Realness, the work unfolds as two-thirds workshop and one-third traditional concert dance piece.
Two performance-art pieces come from Australia
It also builds on 40 years of vibrant dialogue among Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and First Nations North American contemporary theater and dance leaders.