Wednesday, September 16, 2020

RECOGNISE - Ngunnawal Youth Dance Company


National Portrait Gallery - 13th September 2020

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Canberra audiences were treated to the first performances by the fledgling Ngunnawal Youth Dance Company over the weekend with performances in Garema Place and The National Portrait Gallery.

       Tammi Gissell - Krista Clarke - Natasha Lee Rogers - Emma Laverty

                                            Photo: Andrew Sikorski. 

Recognising the important role that dance has played in the spirituality of Indigenous Australian tribes, the Ngunnawal Youth Council, under the guidance and support of Roslyn Brown and the Ngunnawal Elders Council, in a masterful stroke, has enlisted 2017 City News Artist-of-the-Year, Liz Lea, to assist with the formation of a Ngunnawal Youth Dance Company as a means of sharing aspects of culture with non-indigenous and indigenous audiences.

An accomplished professional dancer and dance maker, Lea has a strong interest in indigenous dance from various cultures, having trained in Indian dance in India, and created works for companies as diverse as Darpana in India, Maya Dance Theatre in Singapore, The Flatfoot Dance Company in South Africa and the Small Miracles Company in Mackay.

 I caught up with “Recognise” at the second performance at the National Portrait Gallery, which commenced with a group work, co-choreographed and performed by indigenous dancers, Tammi Gissell, Krista Clarke, Natasha Lee Rogers and Emma Laverty, drawing on their collective knowledge of their different cultural dances, particularly Krista Clarke’s recollections of Ngunnawal dance as taught to her by her parents.

Performed to a haunting accompaniment, played live by Michael Liu on amplified violin, the dancers carried gum-leaf twigs which became integral in creating an ambience to transport the audience back in time to a much less formal performing space.

In contrast, Tammi Gissell drew on her striking presence and strong technique to transform traditional indigenous dance movements into sophisticated contemporary dance imagery for her electrifying solo.

Liz Lea costumed in dazzling white, utilised two large white feather fans, to conjure up images of mischievous white cockatoos with her witty solo. Both solos were danced to evocative electronic soundscapes by Adam Ventura.  

Gissell then re-joined Krista Clarke, Natasha Lee Rogers, Emma Laverty and musician, Michael Liu to perform a final group piece returning to more traditional indigenous dance movement, to round off a program which provided a tantalising glimpse of the intriguing  possibilities facing Canberra newest dance company.