Daniel McKinley of the Bangarra Dance Company talks to Focus about the upcoming production of ‘True Stories.’
You will be performing at the Manning Entertainment Center in June. Have you been to the area before?
No, I haven’t been to Taree before. We have toured regional NSW a lot before, but this is the first time here. It’s always good to tour somewhere I’ve never been and play to new audiences.
> You are bringing the ‘True Stories’ production with you. What’s the story behind the show?
It’s based on 2 different stories – one by Elma Kris called ‘Emeret Lu,’ based and derived from old traditional methods from art on an island in the Torres Strait called Nair Island, or Murray Island. It draws on the traditional ways men hunt and women gather.
We sing and play in the traditional ways of the indigenous culture and thank the spirits and the Gods for letting us tell these stories.
The second half is based on a story called ‘X300’ and is choreographed by Frances Rings. The story is based on atomic tests that took place in the 1950s in Central Australia on Maralinga Land. The British were releasing the bombs, unbeknownst to the indigenous population. The Aboriginal people had no idea why the side effects were occurring to the people and the land. We explore the side effects of nuclear testing and the healing of the land.
> Bangarra is a unique dance company. How did it come to be?
The company has quite a complex history. We were founded by a lady called Carol Johnson, who thought that there should be a company in Australia that celebrates Australian Indigenous culture and also draws on contemporary techniques and ideals and mixing them. We are celebrating our 20th anniversary this year, with a big showcase coming up later this year called ‘Fire.’
> What inspired you to start dancing?
I first got into dance after seeing my sister dance, and I told my parents I wanted to give it a go. I really enjoyed the physical aspect of it. I then joined a youth company in Canberra called Quantum Leap, an initiative of The Australian Choreographic Centre.
I really got into the idea of story telling and performing stories to an audience and using dance as an art form. I discovered Bangarra in 1997 and made a decision on the spot to say, “Yes, that’s where I want to be.” I knew then that I wanted to tell stories of my heritage, stories of the land, stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent.
> What training did you undertake?
When I lived in Canberra, I trained at a dance school for about 2 years just to get the technique, and that got me into university. When I joined the youth company Quantum Leap, I danced on a Tuesday and a Thursday and would then rehearse on the weekends for a show. I then went to the QLD University of Technology and received my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance.
> You performed on Murray Island. What was that experience like?
It was amazing! We were lucky to not only be accepted, but to be invited up there in February. We were there for 10 days performing ‘Emra Lou’ to the community from which these stories are based.
The community was very accepting; they were lovely, beautiful people. Everybody really enjoyed the show. It was a fantastic experience doing workshops with local kids and experiencing their culture. Catching fish and eating it off the fire was great.
> In 2005 you were the recipient of an Indigenous Australian Council Grant called ‘Making Tracks’. What was involved in this process?
I learned about the grant from the Director of Dance of QUT. She suggested I apply for the new indigenous grant the Council was offering. I looked into it and decided it would be a great opportunity if I was to receive the grant.
I went about writing the grant, writing a budget, getting references, writing why I would be the right recipient of the grant, and luckily enough I was successful. With the grant I spent about 9 months in Adelaide with a company called Leigh Warren and Dancers and performed in 2 works down there – one work by Anthony Rizzy from Germany called ‘Like No-one’s Watching” and the second called ‘Petroglyphs – Signs of Life,’ which was choreographed by Leigh Warren in collaboration with Gina Rings.
It was the story of traditional rock paintings – my first real experience of performing something derived from indigenous aspects.
> What is the highlight of your career to date?
Performing overseas is pretty special. Being an Australian company, we always get a great response from people from overseas. We are able to transcend a language and culture barrier. Performing at Le Chatelet in Paris was amazing, or in Wolfburg, Germany.
> What are your plans for the future?
There’s not a lot you can prepare for in dance, but there’re a lot of people I want to perform with.
> What would you say to someone to encourage them to see the show?
Be open to new things, to come enjoy a different cultural experience and an amazing work where we explore an amazing group of people but also a sad point in time that not many people know about. We are all very proud to be telling this story.
> Thank you Daniel.