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.