Twists and turns of Bennelong inspire new show

Beau Dean Riley Smith. Photo by Edward Mulvihill.

The life of Woollarawarre Bennelong, one of the first Aboriginal men to be taken from his people and introduced to European ways in the 1700s, is the inspiration behind a new performance by Bangarra Dance Theatre.

Bennelong is renowned artistic director Stephen Page’s 24th work for the company and will premiere at the Sydney Opera House on June 29 before touring to Canberra, Brisbane and Melbourne.

Bennelong’s life was recorded and documented through the early diaries of the British military — he even travelled to London as a guest of Governor Arthur Phillip, who ordered his capture.

A senior man of the Eora, from the Port Jackson area in Sydney, he is believed to have been born in 1764 and to have been about 25 years old when taken hostage.

He led his community to survive a clash of cultures, but was ultimately exiled by both the traditional and European communities. He died at Kissing Point on January 3 1816.

Page has selected key moments in Bennelong’s life for the show.

“Bennelong is in all of us, as we navigate the ancient and the contemporary elements of our lives,” Page says.

“The question of how we move forward whilst still being connected to our culture and heritage has inspired much of my life’s work.

“More than two centuries after his death, telling his extraordinary story and sharing his journey is a powerful reminder that there is a still a long way for us to go before we can say we’re at a place of true equality.”

Bennelong was a member of the Wangal clan, connected with the south side of Parramatta River, and had close ties with the Wallumedegal clan, on the west side of the river, and the Burra mattagal clan near the site of Parramatta today.

Bennelong runs at the Sydney Opera House from June 29-July 22; at the Canberra Theatre Centre from August 3-5; at QPAC in Brisbane from August 24-September 2; and at the Arts Centre Melbourne from September 7-16.

 

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