An Aboriginal Wongi creation tale from east of Kalgoorlie and an ancient Greek myth make fitting companion pieces in the first full production from the State's newest dance company.
Ochre Contemporary Dance Company, which began nearly six years ago with the vision of promoting Aboriginal culture, has taken its inclusive intentions to heart with its premiere of Diaphanous: Seeing Through and Beyond.
Clunky though the title may be, it is inspired by two associated stories, one indigenous and one imported from the cradle of Western civilisation, illuminated from the same sector of the night sky and explaining human behaviour and the creation of the world.
Choreographer Tammi Gissell, rehearsing with Ochre's dancers in the King Street Arts Centre studios, says she wanted to work with the company because it uniquely combined indigenous and non-indigenous dancers to tell a common story of belonging in Australia.
The Sydney-based Bangarra Dance Theatre may be Australia's only all-indigenous dance company but Ochre is the first to be deliberately structured to have Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal dancers, Gissell says of the ensemble's six indigenous and two non-indigenous dancers.
"Having a company like this honours the history of all Australians," Gissell says. "It is reconciliation in action for me. We are all indigenous to somewhere and we all have our own weight of history and cultural responsibilities."
For Diaphanous, Gissell is creating a work based on Wongi elder Josie Boyle's version of the Pleiades or "Seven Sisters" Dreamtime creation story. It is presented with Perth choreographer Jacob Lehrer's classic Greek interpretation of the same constellation, of Orion chasing the female Pleiades.
While Ochre was launched on the back of Statewide community consultations, it found its voice two months ago after the choreographers and dancers spent nearly a week with Boyle and other Wongi elders at Morapoi Station, near Kalgoorlie, where they learnt about important Seven Sisters sites. "What I find amazing is that before we had the internet, there were all these cultures around the world seeing those exact same stars as female and the other exact same stars as male," Lehrer says. "That is something to think about. When we look up and see the same cluster of stars, there is a similar story.
"It was important to see the interrelationship between the two stories and the company is all about just that.
"It was the first time a lot of the creative team had come together and there was a lot happening all at once leading up to sitting around the campfire and listening to the Seven Sisters story."
Gissell says trust, respect and understanding are paramount in dance, which makes the art form an ideal platform for practical reconciliation.
"Ochre's story is just beginning now in the little conversations and exchanges between the dancers, black fellas and white fellas," she says. "All these little yarns are the knitting together of the start of Ochre and hopefully in time as it solidifies all those thought bombs and beliefs it can hopefully find an anchor point as reconciliation in action.
"You can be as fluffy and intellectual about it as you want but if these fellas don't want to share space together and physically meet as a microcosm, then what hope have we got trying to convert the rest of the world."
Ochre founding director Louise Howden-Smith says the long and exacting consultations, involving more than 800 stakeholders, were important to assuage the initial scepticism that confronted her as a white woman leading the push for an indigenous dance company.
"It has been a long and difficult path but I was determined because I think this is what we need," Howden-Smith says. "I think it is important for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people coming together to learn from each other."
Backed by the State Government and corporate partners such as Iluka Resources and Woodside, she hopes Ochre will, in time, evolve from being a project-based company to become WA's first full-time contemporary dance company since the collapse of Chrissie Parrott Company in the early 1990s.Diaphanous: Seeing Through and Beyond is at the State Theatre Centre from November 22-24.
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