Transition Encapsulated in Dance Work
Dharawungara is being performed as part of Chunky Move’s Next Move 11, from November 9 to 17, 2018. Choreographer / performer Joel Bray spoke to Flora Georgiou.
Flora Georgiou: What does Dharawungara mean?
Joel Bray: Dharawungara means “to pass through” and refers to a critical moment in Wiradjuri ceremony when the participant passes through a ceremonial archway, usually formed by two saplings bound together. It symbolises the transition from one state-of-being to another. In the case of an initiation ceremony, in symbolises the transition to adulthood.
Flora Georgiou: How did you go about re-imagining a traditional Wiradjuri ceremonial ritual into a choreographed dance performance?
Joel Bray: Well, it’s a bit of a case of “theatre of failure”. In reality, I cannot reconstruct the ceremony. I don’t know anyone who has the knowledge regarding it, though I hope and pray, I might meet someone, somewhere, who could lead me through the ceremony. For this work, I treat the theatre as a contemporary ceremonial space and use all the bits and pieces one finds in a theatre to reimagine this ceremony. For instance, a hypothermia blanket from the First Aid kit and a smoke machine become the sacred fire.
Flora Georgiou: What does this show mean to you?
Joel Bray: This show is a lament for the rite of passage I will probably never do. But rather than being a piece of pity porn, I try to exude a sense of optimism into it. This is the work I have wanted to make for a long time, and it is deeply personal in expressing my yearning to reconnect with my culture.
Flora Georgiou: Tell us how you began your dance career?
Joel Bray: I started late, when I was 20 years old. And I wasn’t even looking to dance per se. I grew up mostly with my White mother, so I joined NAISDA Dance College (a College for Indigenous students to learn both traditional and contemporary dance forms) more with the desire to be a part of a Black community for the first time, than to dance. Along the way, I quickly fell in love with dance and have been doing it every day for the past eighteen years! I then went on to study at WAAPA, before moving to Europe and Israel for my career.
Flora Georgiou:How has your time with Chunky Move shaped your ideals and experiences?
Joel Bray: Chunky Move has definitely shaped me as an artist. Under Anouk van Dijk’s leadership, the company is imbued with a powerful rigour of practice: we train hard daily to maintain our dance technique and our improvisational skills. Too often I go and see dance-work and walk away thinking “Wow, great ideas, but they just haven’t maintained their skills and fitness to execute them.” That’s definitely not the case at Chunky. This is tempered, however, with a playfulness and curiosity to keep on exploring new and different ways to move and express ourselves, and I can definitely see how that has influenced the work I make. Finally, Chunky Move is a tight-knit tribe of some of Australia’s finest dancers. Having people like Tara Samaya, James Vu Anh Pham, Niharika Senapiti, Lauren Langlois and Alya Manzart in the studio with me, and in my life, enriches me and pushes me to exceed my own expectations of myself.
Flora Georgiou: And how has it inspired your current show?
Joel Bray: First of all, the work is a kind of site specific work to this particular space. I am really inspired by the Chunky Move space - the seating bank, and the orange walls. And there is drive at Chunky Move to make work that is genuinely innovative. Anouk herself has been an invaluable “outside eye”, coaxing me to be more rigorous with the process and to constantly think about what the audience is thinking or feeling at any particular moment.
Flora Georgiou: Tell us about your collaboration with Naretha Williams?
Joel Bray: Naretha is my sister from another mother. Actually though, it has been a bit of an artistic love affair. She is also Wiradjuri and her sound and sonic composition is heavily influenced by her interest in both our shared cultural heritage and in ritual and spirituality in general. I couldn’t have made this work without her. She is my carer, my sister and my song woman as I go on this ceremonial journey.
Flora Georgiou: Tell us how you feel you can contribute to the landscape of dance and choreography through your new show?
Joel Bray: First of all, this is the first Blackfella work to be made at Chunky Move, and I am a bit in awe of the honour of that fact. And I am inspired by my cultural background. For us mob, the silos between art genres make no sense. When you went to ceremony it was dance, song, storytelling, object art, spiritual practice, medicine and law-making all rolled into one glorious package. And that’s what I try to bring to my work. It incorporates storytelling, dance, live-mixed music and stand-up comedy into the one piece of seamless theatre.