Sunday, May 18, 2014

Indigenous dance and music of Black Cockatoo at Asia Society

Dancer Albert David of Black Cockatoo Dance Company

Australia's indigenous peoples are a culture so old that it takes us through history but is also current.
These artists are about the present and the future...about what it means to be human and what it means to be on the Earth.

-- Rachel Cooper, Director of Global Performing Arts and Cultural Initiatives, Asia Society

Black Cockatoo Dance Company: Indigenous Australian Song and Dance, presented on Friday night by Asia Society in partnership with Australia's Consulate General, was one of the finest concerts I've seen this season. But that's not all. The personable members of Black Cockatoo also gave us one of the best post-show Q&A sessions of all time--informative and charming in equal measure.

Company founder Sean Choolburra and colleagues Albert DavidSmilar Sinak and Vivian Anderson first cleansed the theater's energy with percussive didgeridoo music and chant. They followed this opener with a brisk-paced sample of ceremonial dances and songs from mainland aborigines and people of the Torres Strait islands (which lie between Queensland, Australia and Papua New Guinea). The earliest of the cultures represented here stretches back more than 50,000 years. Indigenous Australians are elders to the world; their artists preserve foundational stories necessary for the cohesion, survival and well-being of their communities. What's thrilling is the blend of seriousness and lightheartedness with which Choolburra and his compatriots carry these stories and discharge their responsibilities to their people and to our shared planet and its precarious future.

These mainland and islander cultures were severely impacted by European encroachment and violence. Choolburra's troupe dedicates itself to seeding the future through their many educational programs and upholding the value of kinship. It's there in every turn of phrase the artists used in the lengthy Q&A. Everyone is brother, auntie; everyone interconnected with land, sea and the abundance of animal life. Infused with this respect and love, many of the ceremonial dances portray animal totems of key importance to clans and individuals--the emu, the kitehawks and sea eagles, each fondly mimicked through characteristic details like the kangaroo's flipping ears and short front legs held close to the breast. Black Cockatoo derives its name from the fabulous totem of Choolburra's clan.
File:Calyptorhynchus banksii (pair)-8-2cp.jpg
Black Cockatoo pair
(photo by Snowmanradio)
In the sunny mainland dances, the performers strike the floor with lively, articulated feet, almost pawing it, and easily skim about. By contrast, some island dances seem stern and minimalist, but there's subtle, eerie poetry in the Welub Batayrik feather dance and crackling electricity in David's performance of a warrior's bow-and-arrow dance. Hey, bro! Watch where you point that arrow!

New York City got only one night to witness these dedicated artists. I hope Asia Society is already working on ways to bring them back.

For more information about Asia Society's arts programs, click here.

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