Returning to the stage in 2020, Bangarra Dance Theatre is touring its renowned production, Bennelong to regional communities across New South Wales and Western Australia.

The leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performing arts company choreographed Bennelong in 2017, which received seven Helpmann Awards, including ‘Best New Australian Work’.

Bangarra dancer and Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi man, Beau Dean Riley Smith returns to the role of Woolarawarre Bennelong.

The role saw Smith take home the Australian Dance Award for ‘Outstanding Performance’ in 2018 and the Helpmann Award for ‘Best Male Dancer’ for his performance.

“We’ve been doing this work since 2017 so it’s nice to progress where the story is going. It’s really grown over the last few years. It almost feels like we are fine-tuning it and it’s maturing,” said Smith.

“It’s been an incredible experience, we have heaps of new dancers who are all bringing their own story with the production. It’s been quite refreshing.”

“I feel like some of my creative choices have grown. I’m really trying to find the complexity of who Bennelong is, in terms of fitting in that emotion and showing the audience that emotion because he was quite an eclectic kind of person.”

“The hardest part about it is to maintain it. I’ve done this show over 100 times and the thing is how do you keep it authentic and real?”

Choreographed by Bangarra Artistic Director, Stephen Page, Bennelong is the story of Woollawarre Bennelong.

A senior man of the Eora nation, Woollarawarre Bennelong, is often referred to as the first Aboriginal diplomat. Bennelong is a celebrated figure in Australia’s history.

One of the first Aboriginal men to be introduced to European life, Bennelong’s story was recorded throughout diaries of early British military.

A man of courage, resilience and diplomacy, Bennelong left an incredible legacy.

Named in his honour, Bennelong Point was the spot where Governor Arthur Phillip ordered a brick hut to be built for Bennelong.

The peninsula to the east of Sydney cove, is home to the Sydney Opera House and is a significant meeting place for Aboriginal people.

“This guy is an incredible man, he is the first of many to do the things he did. He was the first guy to go overseas, he was first Indigenous writer to write in English. He did a lot and was very smart.”

“[I want the audience to] Enjoy the truth of what the story is, enjoy it and respect it because it is the truth.”

“There’s moments you want to laugh with Bennelong and there are moments that you are distraught with what you see on stage. If you go in with an open mind, follow the story because it is beautifully sad … what happened to Bennelong.”

“This story is still relevant today, the things that were going on 250 years ago are still happening. It’s also relevant in terms of today and our truth.”

Growing up on saltwater and freshwater Country, Smith was born in Dubbo NSW and grew up on Yuin Country in the small community of Culburra Beach.

Bennelong will perform in Dubbo, bringing Smith home.

“I am super excited but I was speaking to somebody about this a few days ago, I’m nervous. If I know people in the audience, it can throw me off. If I have people coming I prefer not to know so I can stay focused.”

“I hope I don’t make them cry too much, but I’m sure I’ll make them laugh as well because I have to wear a supported g-string on stage – I betcha when they see my bum they’re going to giggle! They won’t be able to help it.

“I enjoy going to every place … It doesn’t matter really where I perform as long as the story is being told. It’s a story every community needs to see, it’s a man that everybody needs to know and that is from a black perspective and a white perspective.”

Bangarra’s production showcases Australian talent with set design by Jacob Nash, costumes from Jennifer Irwin, lighting by Nick Schlieper and the creative composing of Steve Francis.

The production will tour Albany, Karratha, Newcastle, Port Macquarie, Dubbo and Greater Western Sydney between February 15 and March 14.

For more information and tickets, visit http://www.bangarra.com.au/whatson 

By Rachael Knowles