The very first day that they walked in I saw (our dancers) really pushing themselves physically and mentally…Pauline Lampton Artistic Director Biddigal Performing Arts
Indigenous dance meets ballet
Miriki Performing Arts is a company of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dancers based in Cairns and the surrounding regions. Aged between 11 and 20 years, the dancers learn alongside mentors like Artistic Director Pauline Lampton (Elder) who share their passion to express their Indigenous heritage and history through unique choreography and the presentation of their work.
The Be Yourself project (year 4 of the partnership)
The 2019 residency (year 4 of the partnership) was at Tanks Arts Centre through the sponsorship of Cairns City Council. The program culminated in a performance of a new co-created dance work that explored ideas around society and young people, citizenship, resilience and positive life choices. 36 young people from Cairns and the surrounding regional areas such as Kuranda, the Cook Islands, Bowen and Townsville participated in the residency. This project is reflected in the film above.
The partnership between Miriki Performing Arts and The Australian Ballet has evolved over several years and this case study charts the journey.
Pauline Lampton, Artistic Director of Miriki Performing Arts, shared her comments about the experience below.
On The Sleeping Beauty project (year 1)
In 2016, The Australian Ballet took the Education program to Cairns to work in residence with the young dancers for a week, culminating in a performance to celebrate the opening of a new public space in Cairns.
Pauline said she jumped at the chance to involve her dancers with The Australian Ballet’s Education program. She wanted to expose them to something entirely new and extend their creative vocabulary.
On developing the artists of the future
“My kids, they do a lot of Indigenous contemporary-style work, so I thought that this was going to be something completely foreign to them … [It was] completely different, a new vocabulary …” said Ms Lampton.
The young dancers also embraced the chance to work with The Australian Ballet’s Dance Education Team and regarded it as special opportunity. Pauline observed that this sense of “specialness” inspired them and challenged them to push themselves - “It was The Australian Ballet ... So that meant a really big thing. They actually felt really special that these guys had put aside some time to work with them to create something with them with a performance outcome … they didn't want to let The Australian Ballet crew down, but also themselves as well. There's just something inside them that they want to do this stuff.”
On cultural exchange and collaboration
Over the course of the residency the young dancers contributed their ideas to the themes that underpinned the choreography. They drew on their cultural heritage and histories, bringing the Indigenous understanding of The Dreaming to play through movement and expression.
Pauline noted, "we came back into our studio the next morning and had a discussion … the young people thought, ‘okay, why don't we actually turn that more into the Dreaming?’ So, it's actually somebody that's stepping back into the Dreaming, and in our culture, we have an understanding that the old people are still looking after us from the Dreaming, so that's what we kind of changed it into.”
During the residency the partners created and embraced other opportunities for cultural and artistic exchange.
“We actually taught (The Australian Ballet Education team) a little bit of Torres Strait Island cultural dancing. My crew had joined with another crew (an Indigenous flash mob) … They sing, they do dancing, they do body rhythm percussion. They were able to perform that (with The Australian Ballet Eduation team members) and so it was nice to teach them that.”
On the value of having access to The Australian Ballet’s expertise
Pauline highly valued having access to the expertise of The Australian Ballet. Welcoming other creatives, particularly those of such high calibre, to contribute their skills and perspectives helps her reinforce the messages in her own practice.
“I think it's vital ... Because [the young dancers] are working with [us] week in and week out … [they] sometimes (naturally) they don't listen to us … Having somebody else come in and work with them, saying pretty much the same thing that myself and our mentors keep telling them … it was good to reinforce what we've been saying … It certainly did bring them up to another level.”
Pauline thinks the contribution that organisations like The Australian Ballet can make to young people’s creative development is important and sometimes profound.
“That self-esteem, that confidence level, taking them to another level … for us it was definitely a new thing, a different way; the approach was different, the method was different. So it's always good to open up and experience something new for the young people. They've got to learn to be versatile and to work under different people.
… It re-ignited [the passion for dance] in one of the young kids … he hadn't come to classes for a couple of weeks … He had an absolutely wonderful time and he can't wait to get back on to his journey in dance.”
Cultural collaboration and creativity
Year 2 The Reflections Project
The Australian Ballet was invited to make a work that was a part of the collaboration Biddigal was doing with the POMO First Nations people of San Francisco. The choreography was created jointly and used the themes of the pillars of Aboriginal community- land, family, lore, language and ceremony under the umbrella theme of The Story of Clara in which a dancer is reflecting back on her life.
The design of Year 2’s delivery was informed by the evaluation of year one, and it was decided to increase the cultural training for The Australian Ballet dancers with the Elders and focus on new skills for Biddigal staff and senior students with choreographic techniques they could use in the future. The team also focused on introducing knowledge about to careers in Creative Industry and remaining in education longer.
Students took daily ballet class and there was a strong focus on technique, anatomy, physiology.
The partnership hopes to achieve more project funding to further the future of these young Indigenous creatives in years to come.Photography Aaron Veryard