Dance Rites

Dance Free
First nations dance troupe Wajaarr Ngaarlu painting traditional marking on their faces
Photograph: Supplied/BKE photography

Time Out says

The sixth annual Indigenous dance-off pivots to digital thanks to NITV and the Opera House

The Sydney Opera House has extinguished the ghost lights and is preparing to bring up the house lights once more with Rent – but the Great Infuriate means that gathering together in the forecourt for another mighty First Nations throwdown Dance Rites festival will still be a little tricky. 

Undaunted, the sixth annual dance-off will go ahead, online this time. The heats will be broadcast on their From Our House to Yours digital platform, a lifeline feeding our cultural hunger these last few months, over four consecutive nights from November 11-14. The finals will then air on Saturday, November 21, in partnership with NITV.

And, like many of the ingenious pivots we’ve witnessed, there have been some joyous, unintended consequences. Opera House Head of First Nations programming Rhoda Roberts says, “While Dance Rites is coming to you a little differently this year, it has never felt more like a community event. It’s incredible to see groups from every corner of the country rising to the challenge of an online competition and submitting outstanding performances that tell stories of community, connection to land and overcoming adversity. We’ve also seen an increase in registrations from groups in remote communities, with many acknowledging the deep cultural significance of performing their dances and Songlines on country.”

Performers will include Djakapurra Dancers, led by Bangarra’s spirit man Djakapurra Munyarryun, the Songman for the Sydney 2000 Olympics Games, the all-female Dyiraamalang, Coffs Harbour troupe Wajaarr Ngaarlu, and Mornington Island Dance Group, who famously performed at the Opera House opening ceremony in 1973. Each group will perform one traditional dance, then a wildcard one free to harness contemporary influences.

The First Nations judging panel includes a wealth of choreographic talent including sometime Bangarra stars Daniel Riley, Katina Olsen, Luke Currie-Richardson and Kirk Page. The winning group will receive $20,000, the runner-up gets $5,000. There’s $3,000 in play for the highest-scoring ‘wildcard’ dance., while the $4,000 Rite of Passage Award acknowledges outstanding contribution to revitalising cultural knowledge and practices. One thing’s certain: by getting the privilege of watching these incredible stars do their thing, we’re all winners.

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