New free exhibition explores groundbreaking collaboration between Bangarra Dance Theater and Australian Ballet

It’s the 25th anniversary of the first collaboration between the Bangarra Dance Theater and the Australian Ballet – a milestone in Australian cultural recognition.

To mark the anniversary, the Australian Performing Arts Collection presents a new digital exhibition titled Rites: Dancing towards a common historyexploring the impactful artistic partnership.

The online exhibit and podcast tell the story of the performance through compelling images, footage, music and sound bites featuring Stephen Page, David McAllister, Frances Rings, Djakapurra Munyarryun, Steven Heathcote, Miranda Barker (née Coney) and Charles Barker.

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“This is a beautiful encounter between classical ballet and contemporary First Peoples dance, with both styles embodying the central inspiration of Indigenous creation stories to form a truly united dance production under the thundering classical score of Stravinsky. Rite of Spring,” says Bangarra’s artistic director, Stephen Page.

The exhibition is curated by Bidjara woman and former Bangarra dancer Yolande Brown, who acts as a guide to the past: “Rites was my professional debut as a dance artist. It was an incredibly exciting, nerve-wracking, challenging project for me in 1999,” says Brown.

“I had entered a lift of the work and a world where I could feel strong connections between two special companies full of great artists. The Australian Ballet demonstrated a deep respect and recognition of First Nations cultures and a willingness to learn from our deep history.

“It’s a rare opportunity to be given something to think about. I cherished this experience of reconnecting to this time of great personal and national significance and learning to process the past through the lens of over 20 years of personal learning and growth.

“In everything we do, we learn. Whether it’s listening to Country, being a parent, or taking on projects like this. I enjoy working collaboratively, sharing, listening and learning and that was built in throughout the process when we developed this podcast and exhibit.

Former Australian Ballet Artistic Director David McAllister provides an overview of the exhibition, acknowledging the significance of the coming together between two of Australia’s leading dance companies. McAllister performed as a dancer in the work before serving as artistic director from 2001 to 2020.

“For me, working on Rites in both my capacities (as dancer and director) made sense of what a ballet company in Australia was meant to be. Working in the Lands that supported the oldest living cultures resonated deeply when we created Rites and it demonstrated what ‘truly’ Australian dance work could mean,” said McAllister.

“Ballet being an introduced art form, this was the first time that this connection between our European heritage and First Nations perspectives happened and really made a profound difference for our company. Our mutual appreciation and deep affection was felt as a model that not only worked for us, but that we could adopt as a nation.

This free digital exhibition will be complemented by a live event featuring Stephen Page in conversation with Wesley Enochat Arts Center Melbourne on Saturday 3 September.

Tickets for the roundtable can be purchased here.

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