Artistic director's vision turned into her dream career

·3-min read
Jenny Evans/AAP PHOTOS

Frances Rings' first production as the artistic director of Bangarra Dance Theatre is inspired by her family's connection to an important cultural site.

Yuldea is the story of the Anangu people and the moment two cultures collide, on the edge of the Nullabor.

"This beautiful, powerful and incredible site is the ancestral water soak and its traditional name is Yooldil Kapi," Rings tells AAP.

"Yooldil Kapi is on the traditional lands of the Wirangu people.

"It was the epicentre of traditional life, it had a vibrant and dynamic trade route, it connected to songlines, it was the centre for lore, kinship and ceremony.

"It was a site of permanent water and the Wirangu welcomed other tribes onto their lands."

Rings is a proud Mirning Wirangu woman from the west coast of South Australia. Her appointment as artistic director at Bangarra comes after Stephen Page stepped down after 33 years in the role.

"It is an incredible privilege to step into this role and to be entrusted to care for this company and also to protect the legacy that Stephen – and his brothers – created," she said.

"He has devoted his life to elevating the way we tell our stories as Indigenous Australians and he will inspire storytellers, creatives and artists for generations to come.

"I am really proud to be in this role, and I am also proud that I am a black woman."

Rings did not start her formaI dance training until she was in her late teens and so she feels that her current role is a real testament to having a vision, and also believing in yourself and in your career ambitions.

"If you really have those aspirations, and you work hard and your put in the effort and have the discipline and you know that every step forward is a step closer to the top of the mountain," she said.

The story of Yuldea begins during the time of Australian federation, when politicians promised to build a railway line to connect Western Australia with the eastern states.

Within 20 years of the railway line being built, the construction had exhausted all of the water from the ancestral soak that had sustained Anangu people for thousands of years.

Then came the black mist of the atomic testing at Maralinga, forcing Anangu people to leave their desert homelands where they had lived for millennia.

"The Australian government allowed the British government to conduct atomic testing on traditional lands and the scars of that are still being felt today," Rings said.

"That country was obliterated." 

Rings travelled to Yalata (an Aboriginal community on the edge of the Nullabor), and met with the Yalata Aboriginal board to outline her vision to tell the story of Yuldea.

"Works don't just create themselves, we have a cultural and creative life cycle that ensures that we work with community and that we seek permission and that protocols are followed," she said.

"I told them who I was, a lot of the people on the board are my family, who know me and my mother. 

"They know I don't live on country, so that is a really big deal to hand over a story to someone who doesn't live there and is not embedded in the community."

Rings said history in Australia would always have two sides to the story but most of the time only one side was heard. 

At Bangarra, the purpose is to tell that other side of the story through dance theatre.

"When we tell the stories of the past, we walk alongside our elders, who were at the frontline of colonisation and we walk with them on their journey of healing," she said.

"I think that there is something about going back and telling the story through our voice and through our lens that is an empowering part of the medicine of our healing."

The production will premiere at the Sydney Opera House on June 14, as part of the venue's 50th Anniversary season, before touring nationally.