September 22, 2014


By Ghenoa Gela

So… A week after I was dancing with the Alexandria mob I ended up at NCIE (National Centre of Indigenous Excellence) which is a deadly place in Redfern. Through the Carriageworks/NCIE partnership we all organized to do some more dance workshops with the young people in and around Redfern for their NAIDOC Week celebrations. It was really fun! The kids were keen and raring to go! It’s amazing how much energy these little tinie-boppers have! & by the end of the week, they had made up their own choreography, cleaned up two different dance routines, one contemporary Torres Strait and one ‘G’Styles’ routine. The kids eagerly performed for the Elders lunch and I’m proud to say they ‘smashed it’! Hehe…

A few days later I found myself on a plane heading to Northern Territory. From cold to stinkin’ hot it was definitely most welcomed! Lol… After a few hours in transit and an interesting flight on a private mining plane, (where I found on the full plane I was the only female), I ended up at my destination, Borroloola. This amazing community/township, 13hrs drive SE of Darwin, just over 250km from the Queensland border, with the McArthur River running along side it, from channels filtering from the Arafura sea, was in full hustle and bustle getting ready for the yearly dance festival ‘Dance Site’ – which happens in various communities throughout Northern Territory thanks to Artback NT. I was there to teach some workshops to some young people and also host the festival for the weekend. The workshops were really fun and deadly! The talent of the young people in the community was of a really high standard! Had some big laughs and young peeps taught me some deadly moves too, which I found my ‘not-so-young’ body seem to struggle with, ‘droppin’ it like its hot and twerking’ (who the hell invented that damn move!? Clearly you have to break your back to make anything happen! Its madness!!) was something my body was clearly and strongly said ‘NO.’ to. ! Lol… but they had a laugh at my expense and it broke down enough walls to have them hang around and yarn with me. In most communities I’ve been to, it takes a good while to break that ‘shame’ factor that seems to still be very strong throughout our young people across the country still. But, I guess when you have ‘X’ amount of years being oppressed its not hard to see why our young people are still effected.

Anyways, by the end of the week, I had a solid run of the same kids (which is really rare, so I was ridiculous excited) and they were pumped to perform at ‘Dance Site’. On performance night, they were getting around in their traditional dance attire – which made me really proud – and were asking every second when they were gunna dance. Even though it got annoying, it was a good sign they weren’t gunna dodge the performance. Lol… So, they SMASHED it! & all their traditional dancing as well! The hosting was fun and had a good response from the crowd. It was a very fruitful experience for me and my arts practice and great soulfood for my pride for my culture. Thankyou Lia Pa’apa’a, Aunty Marlene Timothy, Artsback NT and the Borroloola Community, I had a deadly time.
After the weekend was done, I was on the plane back to Sydney to get straight into ‘Culminate’ with Force Majeure. For those of you whom aren’t familiar with ‘Culminate’ it is the second phase of ‘Cultivate’, which to my understanding is a program that gives an amazing opportunity for various choreographers and/or directors and dancers/performers to come together and test out their own methodologies with new people for a new work. ‘Culminate’ for me was very different to the first phase ‘Cultivate’. In ‘Cultivate’ last year I had A LOT and I mean A LOT of experimental processes going on. I had roughly 3 ½ days to work with nine amazing performers, testing, trying, exploring theories I had about my idea of choreography and what that meant to me and also, narrative and dance. In ‘Culminate’ this year I found that I focused mostly on narrative and dance. I’m very interested in this because in my culture (as I can only speak for my own culture and experiences) our stories are not just about talking about it, its also very strongly associated with our songs and dances as well. Now from my understanding of dance and narrative its not a very common thing, however, from the way I grew up, that’s really what makes sense to me. So, I wanted to explore one of my creation stories with dance. Unfortunately, due to the lack of time (I had 5 days this time round) there was no way I could get my peeps to a level of understanding I was happy with to give the story justice, so I opted out. I decided that maybe a western creation story would be something we could explore. I googled (I know.. its shameful isn’t it) western creation stories and it mostly came up with Fables and Fairy tales. I thought it was really exciting, so I had a look at stories and decided that Grimm’s Tales were fairly close to some stories I was told and I’ve also experienced myself. Though the first Grimm tale I ever heard when I was a kid was ‘Rumplestiltskin’ and so that ended up being the choice.

Now, I know some of you might be thinking, ‘why didn’t you do the bible or ‘what about the big bang theory’ well, religion is something I’m fairly passionate about and I feel that I wouldn’t be able to be objective enough to get something substantial out of it that I would be happy with. & Science is something I’m also fairly passionate about, but my lack of knowledge hindered my pursuit. I don’t like stating things I know nothing about and have enough knowledge to back what I’m trying to say… If I wunna say anything & from people I’ve yarned with about my creation stories they sometimes say it reminds them of fairy tales. So that’s how I also came back to the decision of running with ‘Rumple’. I also told my peeps a story about my Athe’ (Grandfather – my mum’s dad) which I was told when I was a kid and I got some urban legends from the net and started playing around. I was really happy with the outcome! I had a great time trying to figure out what I liked, what I wanted and how to make it happen. Kate Champion was right by my side helping me navigate through my processes and the advice and suggestions she made was priceless and I know it will definitely influence my arts practice from now on. My peeps:- Gregory Lorenzutti, Sophia Ndaba, Benji Ra, Melinda Tyquin and Samantha Williams made it all happen for me. Their amazing artisticness (yes I just made that word up) was soo…. Deadly (blackfullah term for:- awesome, good, great, fantastic – depends on context), they made everything I wanted to do, happen. Thankyou guys, you are all amazingly talented performing artists.
Now, I used many lights in my piece for ‘Culminate’ and this came about because when I was younger and we had ‘dance practice’ on – this was when we’d practiced our traditional songs and dancers – it was mostly at nighttime and sometimes when we finish dance practice the adults used to hang around and have a yarn and a few cups of tea, me and my cousins used to go and tell debol (ghost/devil/demon/monster – depends on the context) stories outside under the moonlight. We’d go and grab a torch and each in turn we would take the torch and tell our own debol story or one we heard and knew no-one else knew. It was this memory that provoked the initial idea of lights in my ‘Culivate’ process, but also represented the constellations in the night sky that hold many other stories in my mind. So I wanted to get a whole chunk of lights! We had torches, l.e.d. push lights, lights imbedded in hats and a lantern and we incorporated the lights throughout the scenes to help tell the stories and also had audience members participate as spotters as well. Gregory, Sophia, Benji, Mel and Sammie, each gave one torch to an audience member. Later in the piece at a particular cue the audience participants had to light their person and it proved really fun and exciting to see them really engage in what was graciously asked of them. Thankyou audience participants for letting me see if something like that was possible. At the end of the story/dance telling there was a light show, I had Gregory, Sophia, Benji, Mel and Sammie create pictures with the lights and for me the lights were telling their own story and then Gregory, Sophia, Benji, Mel and Sammie performed a rhythm dance (that I taught all nine performers in ‘Cultivate’) with lights in their hands. I wanted to see what it was like to see the rhythm and patterns the lights made and also hear the rhythm sound the lights made from clicking on and off.

Body percussion and rhythm dancing are very integral to my culture. We have multitudes of rhythms dances that tell different stories from different areas in the Torres Strait Islands – each has their own unique style and you can tell where a dance is from the technique within the movements – this rhythm is something I created myself, it is a simple form learning rhythm. I have not taught technique to any of my performers in ‘Cultivate/Culminate’ as this is something that takes a very long time (years in fact) to learn and master properly to do the dances any real justice. And learning proper traditional Torres Strait Islander dancing will almost always only ever happen within Torres Strait Islander families, there are no institutions in Australia (let alone the world) that I know of that teach ‘proper’ traditional Torres Strait Islander form and technique. So I have just given these guys a very basic experience of Torres Strait Islander rhythm dance. All and all the experience that I have had through this ‘Cultivate and Culminate’ journey is one I will take away with forever. It is something that has seeded the beginnings of understanding of what I want to do in my artistic practice. Thankyou Kate Champion, Bec Allen, Kate Blackmore, Force Majeure, Carriageworks, Performance Space and the ‘Powers-that-be’, you have given me confidence where there was none and a better understanding where there was doubt. Well… Stinkin heck that was a big yarn this time ay? (Phew..) Thanks for reading all the way down, if you got this far! I really appreciate it. Alrighty, till next time then…

Peace, love and respect


Photo by Lucy Parakhina, Culminate Project, Force Majeure & Performance Space at Carriageworks

Ghenoa is Carriageworks and the Alexandria Park Community School’s inaugural artist in residence. Ghenoa is also currently participating in Force Majeure’s creative labCulminate, showing at Carriageworks 13 – 16 August.