The Beginning of Nature. Australian Dance Theatre. Choreographer: Garry Stewart. Composer: Brendan Woithe. Libretto: Jack Buckskin. The Canberra Theatre. June 14 and 15 at 7.30pm. canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 6275 2700.
The Beginning of Nature is about the rhythms of nature and ecosystem processes, says its choreographer, the Australian Dance Theatre's artistic director, Garry Stewart.
The rhythms and processes he was inspired by in creating the work included the seasons, tides, day and night, sleep, and the various systems of the body, translated into a choreographic setting.
"The forces of nature are explored through patterns," Stewart says.
It features nine dancers – five men and four women – a score blending electronica and the Zephyr Quartet, and two vocalists singing live in the Kaurna language, the Indigenous language of the Adelaide plains.
Since the Indigenous presence on the Australian continent dates back far longer than any other people, Stewart wanted to employ an Indigenous language in the work, and as Australian Dance Theatre is based in Adelaide, Stewart wanted to use the local tongue. But it was not a simple process.
"The people were decimated through colonisation," Stewart says, and with the loss of life came the near-total loss of the Kaurna language.
It was almost extinct 20 years ago, but through work by the Kaurna people using a “dictionary” written by local missionaries in the mid-1800s, it has been revived and is taught in schools and at university.
As the language is the cultural property of the Kaurna people, Stewart says when he began making the work he met with Kaurna elder Uncle Lewis Yerloburka OBrien, and Adelaide Indigenous artist and consultant, Lee-Ann Buckskin to explain what he wanted to do and get their permission to proceed.
"They were very positive and encouraging," he says.
He and the composer worked with Jack Buckskin, a Kaurna teacher and dancer who was instrumental in the revival of the language, to develop the libretto.
Stewart says The Beginning of Nature reflects Western and Indigenous attitudes and responses to nature – the former involving concepts such as ecosystems, biology and science and the latter involving Buckskin's responses to what he saw at rehearsals and his discussions with the dancers.
This in turn influenced the ways they performed, and incorporating his totem and other concepts drawn from Indigenous thought.
"Typically in the West we think of ourselves as separate from nature and becoming dominant over nature," Stewart says.
The Beginning of Nature explores the idea that, in fact, nature asserts its force over us regardless and our bodies are inscribed with its rhythms.
The Beginning of Nature began development in 2015 was first seen in a 50-minute form at WOMAD in 2016. After further work, in November last year Australian Dance Theatre took the full-length 70-minute work to Colombia where it had its premiere in Bogota.
"We received some funding from DFAT to engage with South America," Stewart says.
It was then performed in Amsterdam in February. Now Canberra will be the first city to see the Australian premiere of the full-length production of Garry Stewart's work The Beginning of Nature as it begins its seven-week national tour.
"It's very accessible and easy to understand," Stewart says.
"It's very expressive through the body."
More information on Australian Dance Theatre can be found at adt.org.au.
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