First Nations theatre company brings indigenous stories to Aotearoa's stage

By Mana Wikaire-Lewis

The widely acclaimed First Nations Bangarra Dance Theatre company will appear in Aotearoa this week with its latest show Sandsong: Stories from the Great Sandy Dessert starting tomorrow and running through till Saturday at the ASB Waterfront Theatre in Auckland.

The company draws on the extreme hardship faced by the Aboriginal people over many years and channels that into art and theatre.

Stephen Page has been the artistic director of the company for more than 30 years. The descendant of the Nunukul people and the Munaldjali of the Yugambeh people from south Queensland says the idea for Sandsong he and fellow choreographer Frances Rings came as a way to honour the late Aboriginal actress of Rabbit-Proof Fence fame, Ningali Josie Lawford-Wolf and her family. The Kimberleys where Lawford-Wolf was from are also the setting for Sandsong.

Sandsong comes to Aotearoa this week.

“Ningali is from the Kimberleys in Western Australia and she always contributed to Bangarra in her stories. She always wanted to work with Bangarra,” Page says.

Sandsong is about the Kimberleys, the great sandy desert. It deals with subjects like Blak social issues, about her mob and her people being displaced from their lands, the cultural significance of landmarks, and it celebrates a variation of stories through her connection to country.”

Jila, the Living Water that exists in desert waterholes all across the area and forms the foundation of cultural beliefs and traditions, is the essence of the Kimberleys. Sandsong narrates the particular tale of this location and the perseverance of its people.

“Obviously there are similarities with First Nations people globally. I think it’s when First Nations people have that beautiful connection of really understanding the truth of land, the relationship with land, people, water and sky.”

Page says there could be potential cultural collaborations to have Māori and First Nations performers make a theatre piece in the future.