Tuesday, August 14

In the spirit of dancing


I recently attended a dance performance entitled “I like Shorts”. The name was indicative of the format: just 10 minutes of individual dance performance acts by emerging and established dancers. Although some of the presentations were excellent others represented the longest 10 minutes in dance history, as it was far too repetitive and left the audience bored. I think an artist owes some measure of responsibility to entertain within the ambit of artful expression.

Dance however must be one of the most subjective types of expression within the whole gambit of the arts, yet it has existed since time in memorial in all of its different forms within different communities and across cultures. Amongst early indigenous peoples we know it celebrated their life cycles, to welcome in new seasons, to celebrate a successful hunt or season or as an initiation ceremony into adulthood. Many of these elaborate dance ceremonies extended over several days and were taken very seriously. The dance was almost always accompanied by much singing and playing of musical instruments, which themselves became objects which were held in reverence. Aboriginals in Australia in Arnham land in the Northern Territory remain traditional owners of the Didgeridoo, an instrument fashioned from the trunks or branches of eucalyptus trees hollowed out by termites with a mouthpiece made from bee wax and adorned with paintings and carvings. The instrument stretches back into their ‘Dreamtime’ estimated to be an uninterrupted period of occupancy and affinity to the land encompassing 60,000 years. Aborigines have a rich spiritualty encompassing their own law, passed on by the elders. The Didgeridoo was considered a sacred instrument and played an integral part in all religious ceremonies. Strict rules apply to its use with heavy penalties for transgressors, as they believe its spirit lives on in the instrument. However any instrument made by a non-Indigenous person is deemed to have no spirit; considered merely a musical instrument. The same principles apply to Didgeridoos made by Aboriginal people who do not have the instrument by virtue of their cultural heritage.

When I was in Kiribiti I witnessed their dance ceremonious and singing, representing an oral history from first migration, maybe from Tahiti about 10,000 years ago in giant canoes. The training and rehearsal extended over several months before each important celebration and the elaborate dance routines were both graceful and beautiful. I learnt from a local volunteer from Canada, who had decided to learn their language and dance that they were arduous and difficult to remember. She recounted a story to me of a young man who had kindly dedicated himself to train her for a dance but died several months before the intended celebration. During the dance she lost her way as her mind went blank. Immediately the image of the man came to her and she had no further recollection other than when it was completed several hours later. Many complemented her on her performance afterwards.

The above photos show several young Kiribiti dancers from the island of Tarawa in their resplendent costumes which were all hand woven.
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grannyfiddler said...

i heard recently of a study that is being done on the genetics of our need for music. there has never been a human culture that did not have music. if that isn't proof of our spiritual side, i guess nothing is. i once saw a dance done by two women in the Yukon, about the connection between indiginous people, the land, and the creatures on the land, that held me transfixed for 2 hours it was so beautiful and so moving. done in a dark theatre with a digital projector shooting images of caribou and landscape and the river ice breaking up in the spring, on a huge screen behind them. very few other accessories.

Lee said...

An interesting post as usual,Lindsay. Dance is an expression of who we are...music and dance...what would life be without them?

laura said...

Very interesting post, Lindsay. I so love dance! We enjoy going to the Native American Pow Wow every year. It's sort of the same thing - some amazing dancers and some that just seem to go on forever. But the dress is always beautiful and there is something so wonderful about seeing people maintain the tradition of dance, song, and music. So much of it is dying.

Val said...

Was this here in Melbourne, Lindsay? Or are you overseas now? I too am interested in music and dance as and expression of self and culture. And as Laura mentioned, the world is in danger of losing much of this heritage, similar to the loss of languages. We should encourage and celebrate diversity always.

lindsaylobe said...

Hi Granny F, Lee, Laura & Val ~

Thanks for your interesting thoughts; it is good I think to share in the experiences of different indigenous groups, to encourage the continuance of their culture so easily lost especially when only based on an oral tradition.

Val ~We don’t depart for overseas until 8th September.

Best wishes

Duncan said...

Hey Lindsay
Great blog!
Do you have RSS feed? (Apologies if you do - I couldn't find it.)
I'd like to subscribe, that's all.
best regards

lindsaylobe said...

Hi Duncan
I have included a feed for you ~atom~just above categories on the left hand side ~which I think will work okay. If not let me know.

All site feeds on blogger are published in Atom 1.0 format. However, if you add ?alt=rss to the end of my site feed URL, you will get the same feed in RSS 2.0 format.

Best wishes

Josie said...

I love Aboriginal dances. I love Maori dances as well, and North American First Nations dances. I saw a movie called "Whale Rider" a few years ago, and I loved the Maori - what is it called - haka? dances in that movie

Have a great trip, BTW.

abhay k said...

Hi Lindsay,
Loved reading your this interesting post. To dance is one of the ways to win over time, the greatest victory one can have in this Universe.

Nvisiblewmn said...

I love those photos!

Madcap said...

I love that story in your second last paragraph. The universe is a very big and mysterious place.

lindsaylobe said...

Hi Josie, Abhay, Nvisiblewmn & Madcap

Thanks for your comments ~traditions and dance are integral to our lives. I loved the story of Whale Rider which I saw when last in NZ. The Universe is beyond our capacity to imagine it.

Best wishes

Gary said...

Thoughtful and respectful post Lindsay.

I recently attended some dance and drumming of the Nisga'a people of BC. Similarly, I knew that even though I saw the beauty (and enjoyed it) - I don't have the cultural context to really appreciate it deeply.

To be fair - I feel the same way about ballet!

Rachael Byrnes said...

Its seems as if much of contemporary dance in a Western context has become alienated from the culture it represents. Traditional dance played an important role in the rituals and ceremonies of its people and invited a deeper level of exploration. Contemporary dance often seems meaningless, or a least the meaning is lost on the average viewer and so it becomes a series of disconnected movements, like a jigsaw stapled together in wrong order. What is the point, we often ask ourselves? Do performers of contemporary dance have an obligation to entertain us since we have paid to watch them? If so what is entertainment? The Farlax dictionary defines entertainment as “The pleasure afforded by being entertained”. Note the reference to the word “pleasure.” If a performance does not please us then is it no longer entertainment? I also saw the “I Like Shorts” show and agree that some of the acts were the longest 10 minutes of my life. I was not pleased. I was not entertained. I was not educated, I did not grow, I did not explore life or the universe any further. Perhaps I became better at sitting still and breathing though the discomfort that life often presents us. If that was the point then I guess they did their job. But next time I won’t waist my money on a show I’ll just go and look at my garbage can for 10 minutes.