The artistic director of the acclaimed Bangarra Dance Theatre has travelled the world. Many places have captured his heart. Only one has a claim on his soul.
I first saw Uluru in 1983. That rock, with its knowledge and ancient blood and symbolism, is the most natural healer in the world. Every time I stand there, it makes me look within myself and think of who I am. Uluru has always been significant for me but rarely more so than last year when Bangarra performed there in conjunction with the Mutitjulu community to mark 25 years of the company. Being on country in the centre of Australia and connecting with the local Indigenous peoples always stays in my mind. That country where the mother rock lives was where I drew inspiration in directing the Indigenous section of the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Remember the 500 Central Desert women who ran onto the field? The local community helped me bring them together. They took me to wonderful riverbeds to tell me stories. The rock has a deep and abiding place in my soul. I just wish people would stop bloody climbing it.
2001: New York City
I travelled to New York with Bangarra two weeks after September 11. When a tragedy like 9/11 happens, art is a great medicine. Bangarra storytelling connects to our ancient heritage so it’s got a really high spiritual potency. We knew when we got there that we wanted to perform a ceremony near Ground Zero. Even two weeks later, everything was covered in soot and there were still clouds of dust in the sky. We painted ochre on our foreheads and a traditional elder from Arnhem Land, Djakapurra Munyarryun, sang. We wanted a song to ground us on that country, to pay our respects to those who had been lost. Three or four blocks away, a Native American Indian elder heard the singing and it called him to where we were. Through that elder we were able to meet many different Native American families. It was a truly powerful connection.
2012: Tsonjin Boldog, Mongolia
We went to Mongolia as part of a cultural exchange. Towards the end of our stay, we piled into a tiny bus and went sightseeing. We were all sitting on top of each other and it sounded like the fan belt was going to break at any time. As we thumped and bounced over rocky roads, to either side of us were mounds and caterpillar-like hills interspersed with scrub and flowers, really similar to our Central Desert. About an hour out of Ulan Bator, this massive, shiny structure materialised on the horizon – a 40-metre-high stainless steel statue of Genghis Khan on a horse. It’s so big that you can get into a lift inside the statue and come out between his legs! It’s not my favourite sense of symbolism but it was fascinating. You’re going into vast country with nothing around except this gigantic statue.
Bangarra performs lore at QPAC Playhouse, Brisbane, from August 7-15 and Arts Centre Melbourne from August 28 to September 5.