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SILENCE to premiere at Sydney Opera House, sparking Treaty dialogue

Joseph Guenzler -

In May, the Sydney Opera House's UnWrapped series showcases SILENCE, a new Australian work by the pioneering Indigenous dance company Karul Projects.

Premiering at Sydney Opera House from May 8-11, SILENCE delves into the fractures within modern Australian society, offering a profound exploration of contemporary culture.

Initially premiering at the Brisbane Festival in 2020, the production now returns following an extensive national tour.

Under the guidance of proud Minjungbal-Yugambeh, Wiradjuri, and Ni-Vanuatu man, Thomas E.S. Kelly, serving as director, choreographer, writer, and performer, SILENCE delves into Australia's ongoing discussions concerning sovereignty and the repercussions of inaction.

Thomas E.S. Kelly. (Image: Dance North)

Mr Kelly stressed the ongoing need to discuss Treaty, viewing it as a vital step toward fostering understanding and agreement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

"Treaty is an ongoing conversation that started way before me and because we still do not have one it's our responsibility to keep the conversation going," he told National Indigenous Times.

"It's the step moving forward for me, the agreement, the understanding of how the First Nations and non-First Nations Australians hold space together."

SILENCE boldly challenges Australia's failure to formally acknowledge its Indigenous peoples through a Treaty.

This potent multi-disciplinary piece seamlessly blends elements of contemporary and cultural dance, punctuated by moments of comedy, theatre, and music, creating a compelling and thought-provoking experience.

"The historical imagery used throughout the show is to highlight the length of time for this conversation.

"The different ways we've had resistance, in politics, sport, On Country or in the streets. It's important to know who we are and where we've come from."

Mr Kelly expressed a desire for the Treaty conversation to progress despite fears and misunderstandings.

He believes Treaty could benefit all by grounding Australia's identity in respect for First Nations history.

SILENCE serves as a platform for audiences to envision the potential of Treaty, acknowledging past injustices while celebrating the unity of Indigenous and Colonial cultures.

Mr Kelly highlighted the absence of a Treaty as a barrier to coexistence, perpetuating racism in Australia.

"Treaty is the conversation I want moving forward, but people fear the Blak agenda," he said.

"People fear Treaty and what it could mean, not even understanding what benefits it could bring for everyone, to create an identity for Australia that is grounded in and respects the First Nations history of the land we call home."

"We aren't one and Australia is littered with racism still, because people don't know how to coexist together. Because they never had to, there's no agreement, there's no Treaty."

Mr Kelly notes the meaningful responses from audiences to SILENCE, particularly the embrace from Elders and the sense of pride and understanding it evoked.

He emphasised the importance of keeping the conversation about Treaty alive, aiming to increase awareness and promote dialogue, both within Indigenous communities and among broader audiences.

"Any show that has had Aunties and Uncles hug me post show, having them be proud of me, Elders who aren't my mob, hold me with tears saying they saw beauty and strength, that they felt seen and that they want everyone to see the story, to listen, be present and be loud when we need too," he said.

"Knowing that people, both First Nations and not, leave understanding a little bit more about what a Treaty could do, that's the aim.

"I'm not solving the big issue, I'm just keeping the conversation on the table, to not let it go silent."

More information, and tickets, can be found online.

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