The Complication of Lyrebirds

First nations woman Jasmin Sheppard performing a dance inspired by the lyrebird
Photograph: Supplied/Samuel James

Time Out says

This powerful First Nations dance show is a thoughtful highlight of Sydney Festival 2021

Jasmin Sheppard’s thought-provoking new dance work The Complication of Lyrebirds tackles head-on the pressure many First Nations Australians feel to blend in. Debuting at the Campbelltown Arts Centre January 20-23 as part of Sydney Festival 2021, the idea behind teh show has us hooked.

As both creator, choreogrpaher and performer, Sheppard adopts the mating dance of the native lyrebird. The feathered fancy famously adopts the calls of prospective mates to appear more attractive to them (not to mention mimicking all sorts of mind-bending sounds, from construction work to pedestrian crossing beeps). She compares this technique to the external pressures placed on many Indigenous people to either prove their ‘blackness’, or somehow minimise it, by adopting different ways of talking or appearing.

Her curly question to us all: if your family was denied their culture by the impact of colonisation, then what really makes you Aboriginal? “There’s a strong pressure placed on First Nations people to constantly prove ‘how Aboriginal’ we are,” she says. “From the colour of our skin, to that ever-common cringe-worthy question ‘So what percentage are you?’, to how much cultural knowledge we may or may not have had passed onto us.”

The visually arresting piece also re-contextualises historical documents that have wrought so much pain, including ‘The White Australia Policy’ and ‘The Exemption Form’. Collaborator Kaine Sultan Babij will perform the work alongside Sheppard, with a beautiful score by Cris Derksen and sound design by Naretha Williams. Samuel James has created spectacular video art enhanced by Karen Norris nifty lighting design.

The Complication of Lyrebirds asks us to acknowledge that all First Nations people are unique, that they have their own journey to follow and histories to draw upon. “It’s time to put these questions back where they came from and not upon ourselves,” Sheppard adds.

Love the sound of this Syd Fest show? Also check out Sunshine Super Girl.


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