Free new exhibition explores groundbreaking Australian dance collaboration

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Free new exhibition explores groundbreaking Australian dance collaboration

Artists of Bangarra Dance Theatre and The Australian Ballet in Rites, 1999. Photo by Branco Gaica.

It's the 25th anniversary of the first collaboration between Bangarra Dance Theatre and The Australian Ballet - a milestone in Australian cultural recognition.

To mark the anniversary, the Australian Performing Arts Collection is presenting a new digital exhibition entitled Rites: Dancing towards a shared history, exploring the milestone artistic partnership.

The online exhibition and podcast tell the performance’s story through striking imagery, footage, music and soundbites featuring Stephen Page, David McAllister, Frances Rings, Djakapurra Munyarryun, Steven Heathcote, Miranda Barker (née Coney) and Charles Barker.

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“This is a beautiful coming together of classical ballet and First Peoples contemporary dance, both styles embodying the core inspiration of Indigenous creation stories to form a truly united dance production under the thunderous classic score of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring,” says Bangarra’s artistic director Stephen Page.

The exhibition is curated by Bidjara woman and former Bangarra dancer Yolande Brown, who acts as a guide into the past: “Rites was my professional debut as a dance artist. It was an incredibly exciting, nerve-wracking, and challenging project for me to step into back in 1999,” says Brown.

“I had stepped into a remount of the work and into a world where I could feel strong bonds between two special companies full of great artists. The Australian Ballet demonstrated a deep respect for and acknowledgement of First Nations cultures and a willingness to learn from our deep history.

“It is a rare opportunity to be given a purpose for reflection. I have cherished this experience of reconnecting to this time of great personal and national importance and getting to process the past through the lens of more than 20 years of personal learnings and growth.

“In everything we do, we learn. Whether it’s through listening to Country, parenting or taking on projects such as this. I love working collaboratively, sharing and listening and learning and this was embedded throughout the process as we developed this podcast and exhibition.”

The Australian Ballet’s former artistic director David McAllister provides insight throughout the exhibition, acknowledging the significance of gathering between two of Australia’s leading dance companies. McAllister performed as a dancer in the work before occupying the role of artistic director from 2001 – 2020.

“For me working on Rites in both my capacities (as a dancer and director) made sense of what a ballet company in Australia was meant to be. To work on the Lands that have supported the oldest living cultures resonated profoundly when we created Rites and it demonstrated what a ‘truly’ Australian dance work could mean,” said McAllister.

“With ballet being an introduced artform, it was the first time that this linking of our European heritage with the First Nations perspectives occurred and really made a profound difference to our company. Our shared appreciation for each other and profound affection, felt like a model that not only worked for us, but was one that we could embrace as a nation.”

This free digital exhibition will be complemented by a live event featuring Stephen Page in conversation with Wesley Enochat Arts Centre Melbourne on Saturday 3 September.

Tickets for the panel conversation can be purchased here.