I'm writing this in a hotel room in Perth, WA. Another hotel room! This time I'm in Australia as the guest of the Australia Council, with a view to programming indigenous work into the Origins Festival. Great to know these ideas are being taken so seriously.
This sort of work has been an emerging theme over the last few weeks. First we has Sam Cook's workshop at the Laboratory, and then last Thursday I drove up to Cambridge to see Miria George's play and what remains.... as part of the Pasifika Styles Festival. Miria is a Maori, who runs a Wellington-based company called Tawata Productions with a writer and director called Hone Kouka. It's an incredibly provocative piece of work - based on the idea of the last Maori leaving New Zealand a few years into a dystopian future. If it sounds far-fetched, Miria points out that she wrote it in response to legislation in 2005 which forbade Maori ownership of seashore land. Which sounds very like ongoing colonialism in the 21st century.
What was really striking about the play was the way in which Hone had given "voice" to the almost silent Maori character of Mary through her use of traditional gestural language. There's a great moment when she opens her suitcase, and we see it's full of earth. She gets in, and dances in the earth: a dance of eloquent despair. Hone and Miria came to the Laboratory on Saturday, and did a workshop for us around this way of working. As often in the past, I'm struck by the pervasive nature of performative activity in First Nations cultures. We find ourselves strutting like birds, singing laments, performing hakkas, and all with a theatrical meaning and intention behind them. It's very much helped by the fact that half the people attending are themselves Maori - there's a clear and deep loyalty to the home culture among Maori people living in England.
On the plane coming here - it's a very long flight - I saw a new film called Ten Canoes, with an entirely Aboriginal cast. Again, there's an amazing sense of culture and performance as being the heart of everything. There's a wonderful sequence of a Makarrata ritual, with two members of a tribe that has given offence facing the spears of the offended, dancing magically as they dodge them. And, when one, Ridjimiraril, has been hit and mortally wounded, he performs a long and agonizing dance of death; like the one David Gulpilil (who narrates this film) does in Walkabout. It's a very beautiful film - and has filled me with excitement about the next few days.