Vicki’s Fab Five

I begin writing to you from a train carriage bound for Bathurst. Yep, I am celebrating NAIDOC week on country this year. Well not far from it. Wiradjuri country at any rate, with Legs On The Wall and a cohort of handpicked dancer collaborators. We are in creative development for a new work with the working title First Women.

Bathurst is all a buzz with its Winter Festival. I was informed that I should envisage Vivid, but on an ever so slightly smaller scale than its Sydney city counterpart and while I don’t really have much spare time to whiz around town actually experiencing many of the festivities, I will inevitably get the low down from my Mum who has joined me on this trip.

For Black fellas NAIDOC is a big week. Doubly so for Indigenous dancers as we barely have time to catch our breath going from one gig to the next, so it was a rare treat to be able to snag five independent movers and shakers for this residency. What better way to celebrate my NAIDOC adventure than to write a feature about my fab five.

First up there’s Jacinta Janik, who just popped up to my room for a spare container because she’s making a healthy version of curried sausages and rice. While I am not exactly sold on the concept of a healthy sausage curry, I will concede that you can’t get more Koori than that. It’s right up there with fried damper, bully beef and kangaroo.

Anyway, I digress.

I first met Biripi woman Jacinta at NAISDA, straight out of ballet school, with legs and feet to die for. Now she is an interdisciplinary artist with a talent for visual arts. She has expanded her ability to make elegant lines with her body in space for the paintbrush on canvas. In First Women she does this thing where she draws a line and then a face appears, and then another, and then a few more and all of a sudden there’s a community depicted, all without her pen ever leaving the paper. In this case a pen is substituted for chalk dust and the canvas is replaced by tarkett. (Mum looked online and informed me that what Jacinta does is called doodle art. “Doodle my foot!” I say. The term doodle just doesn’t quite cut it).

In a previous development I asked each dancer what their special talent was because I wanted to create a modern day Dreaming narrative whereby each artist became a clever woman. Normally this moniker is reserved for men. Sometimes called feather foot, a cleverman has powers beyond mere mortals. In this development I assigned text originally created by Wiradjuri countrywoman Audrey Goth-Towney, who said she had a knack for winning arguments to Aroha Pehi (Taribelang-Bunda, Kuku-Yalanji, Ngāpuhi and Ngātiporou) because she claimed she always had a quick come back. Besides her quick wit it turns out she also has a beautiful voice and is a dab hand at roller skating, a skill she picked up during lockdown and both of which I utilize in this work.

You know you have made a name for yourself when you sneak outside for a break and someone yells from a car “Hey, I know you. Aren’t you that model from fashion week?” Well in this gig that’s Tynga Williams (Wiradjuri, Kamilaroi, Noongar and Torres Strait Islander). How we snagged her is still a mystery to me. She proudly informed me that just the night before she had produced her first cabaret club event to kick off the NAIDOC proceedings on the Central Coast. In this work Tynga is able to hold, to juggle, to bear the load; she represents an emotional weathervane. Along with Aroha, she also possesses a pair of impressive pipes.

Another Wiradjuri countrywoman, Amy Flannery, has become my right-hand woman after working together on a double-hander for PACT Centre for Emerging Artists’ Revival project, just before our sojourn to the heartland of motor racing (think Mount Panorama/Wahluu). What can I say about Amy besides the fact that she is fully committed? There is no ridiculous request she will not perform. I drag something up from the depths of my imagination and she transforms it into a thing of wonder. With her laptop opened to the q-lab sound program, she makes mere words a score, and melodies out of quotidian cacophonies. Hence Amy’s superpower in First Women is her ability to transcend time through sound.

Unlike the others with whom I have a shared history as teacher at NAISDA, Tamara Bouman (Biripi) and I are newly acquainted. I was immediately struck by Tamara’s physical malleability. When it comes to Indigenous dance sometimes dance is not loud, not precise, not about making hard lines but more about leaving impressions. It takes a special mover to dance the seemingly small, and make the understated, significant. Tamara’ s superpower is her ability to embody potential: what is yet to be realised.

The location of Tamara’s character made me reevaluate what it is I usually find newsworthy in the diverse realm of dance. My blogs are usually filled with information about what has already transpired, featuring impressive deeds by well established artists. This time I wanted to shine a spotlight on the input from the creative talent of the ‘collaborator’ and the ways they operate outside of their physical demands as dancers. As my choreographic practice matures, I find myself gravitating toward the dancer who not only displays chutzpah on the dancefloor but can engage and contribute in the conceptual impetus of a work. For it is these dancers who are certain to be the leading creators in the near future. So watch this space.

Vicki Van Hout
FORM Dance Projects
Blogger in Residence