The Australian Ballet

Unbroken Knowledge: weaving a story through THE HUM’s adornments.

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Drew Hedditch, Zachary Lopez, Karra Nam, Katherine Sonnekus, Lilla Harvey and Jill Ogai in THE HUM (Riley), 2023
Photo Daniel Boud

Daniel Riley's THE HUM has invoked the talents of creatives that speak to the incredibly rich history of our Country. Behind Ballet speaks with Priscilla Reid-Loynes and Sarah Loynes who made the adornments for the production.

Priscilla Reid-Loynes and Sarah Loynes created 22 custom made adornments for THE HUM, individually crafted for each dancer. Made using elements sourced from Gamilaroi and Ularoi Country (extending from New South Wales to Southern Queensland), and with some special imports from our New Zealand neighbours, the adornments reflect the unique collaboration between The Australian Ballet and a host of extraordinary artists.

The loose flowing scarf-like adornments each include 120 emu feathers. “It was really lovely to be able to work with the emu feathers from Gamilaroi Country”, says Priscilla, “because the emu is a part of our kinship system on our maternal side.”

Further afield, the possum fur had to be sourced from Aotearoa/New Zealand. “Possums are protected here, but in New Zealand, they’re considered a pest. It’s unfortunate that as a First Nations person you need to order from New Zealand to get access to your cultural materials”, says Priscilla of the process.

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Fabric soaked in soy milk and the eurah plant
Photo Priscilla Reid-Loynes

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Priscilla Reid-Loynes working with New Zealand possum fur.
Photo unknown

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Emu feathers from Gamilaroi Country
Photo Priscilla Reid Loynes

Healing Spirit

Priscilla and Sarah have used the traditional medicine plant eurah, to dye the twine for the adornments. “The idea to dye it came stories told to me by my mum. My mum and her sisters would gather the eurah and they would dye their clothes with it when they wanted pretty colours. I really loved that we were able to work with our medicine plant to bring the spirit and element of wellness into the adornments.”

The eurah plant is part of a much larger history for Priscilla and Sarah, “It’s an unbroken knowledge from our family and culture.” Says Sarah who began learning to weave through the creative women in her family as a teenager.

“I’ve been very fortunate to learn a lot from my family. Mum’s always been a creative and an artist, and I’ve always been around that artistic presence, whether sitting at art stalls or being at home and creating art."

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Every element tells a story, the possum pelt with unique burn marks of Priscilla and Sarah's heritage.
Photo Priscilla Reid Loynes

Creation and Connection

Sarah continues, "when you take up a cultural practice you have to really come to it and recognise the importance of passing those traditions on. I was in my mid-teens when I really took up weaving. I’m not usually the handiest person so it took a lot of time, dedication and patience. It took me three days to weave my first basket.

But I wanted to do it and I needed to do it because I wanted to honour all the people who have held onto this knowledge and passed it down to the few of us who have it now.”

Sarah has become more focussed in her weaving practice over the last decade and still takes inspiration from those who have been weaving for over 40 years, who she considers “master weavers”.

“It comes from practice, but it’s also about having the time to really sit with the materials and getting to know them intimately. Finding out where they come from, how you can collect and process them to create these items. It’s not just the activity of weaving them together but the stories that come throughout the process from start to finish and even beyond. By putting them on a stage they’re able to tell a new story.

"There’s an important social aspect to creative process as well. It’s not just about making beautiful things but coming together and connecting “The yarns that you get to have when you're all together, not just as family, but as people getting to do these cultural practises are so important.”

“The yarns that you get to have when you're all together, not just as family, but as people getting to do these cultural practises are so important.” — Sarah Loynes
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Brianna Kell in THE HUM (Riley), 2023
Photo Daniel Boud

Dancing through country

When creating THE HUM Daniel Riley had a clear idea of how he wanted the piece to look. Each element of the work tells the story, from the score by Deborah Cheetham – Fraillon, to Annette Sax’s costumes, the adornments speak to the very essence of THE HUM.

“When I think about Annette’s beautiful costumes for THE HUM, her fashion comes from her Country and the spirit of Country is held within the ochre and in the creative process.” says Priscilla.

(Annette’s pieces were created with ochre from Taungurung Country, which was ground and turned into paint before being screen printed onto fabric.)

“It’s the same for our work. It holds the spirit of Gamilaroi and Ularoi Country. It helps to tell the story because it is Country. It’s what the dancers are dancing about, that connection. It’s the hum, the identity that’s held within the piece. It’s Country. The dancers are dancing with Country through the adornments."

Emu feathers

Maramaldanha adornments
Photo Priscilla Reid-Loynes

Walanbaa dhuwi- Strong Spirit and Sensory Connection

Priscilla personally presented the adornments to the dancers and explained where each piece came from and the process of creating them.

“I tied every single adornment with a piece of the eurah plant. I invited the dancers to connect with the spirit of each element, to crush the leaf and smell it. Smell is really important as it creates a sensory connection.” says Priscilla.

Sensation is an important part of the adornments, the twine makes up one sensation as does the possum fur.

“It’s the same with the feathers, all of these textural elements make a up a bigger entity. We wanted to invite the dancers to connect with the spirit of all of these parts, because if you can feel that spirit, that connection, then you can express that through the dance.”

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Artists of Australian Dance Theatre and The Australian Ballet in THE HUM (Riley), 2023
Photo Daniel Boud

Eternal energy

Each part of the adornments represents something much bigger in First Nations cultures, from traditional stories that underscore each element to the relationship between earth, sky and kin. The depth and layers to each feather, piece of twine and carefully created burn mark are the embodiment of centuries of energy. From the traditional stories of First Nations cultures that connect to the emu in the Milkyway or to the lessons of care, kindness and generosity taught by the possum, “everything you create carries your energy,” says Priscilla, “those elements are going to have strength because that’s what makes us who we are.”

“everything you create carries your energy.” — Priscil­la Reid-Loynes

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