Despite COVID-19 restrictions, the sixth annual Dance Rites festival will continue this year with the event making the move to the online world.

Usually a two-day event on steps of the Sydney Opera House, the festival will instead be shared across the Opera House’s online channels between November 11 and November 14, coinciding with NAIDOC Week.

The 2020 competition sees 28 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dance groups go head to head, with finals to be broadcast on NITV on November 21.

The festival’s first time in the virtual space, audiences will be welcomed into community to hear interviews from Elders and community representatives and watch dances being performed on Country.

The Opera House employed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander media crews across the country to work with communities to film Dance Rites entries.

Dinawan’s Connection have been part of Dance Rites since 2015. A founding member of the group, Steve Taylor, told NIT online access makes it easier to participate.

“A lot of dancers can’t make it this far, this gives them the chance to dance strong at home.”

“It’s good to see everyone dancing and representing their community, representing their people and their Country. You get to see a variety of dancing you probably wouldn’t get to see in your life,” Taylor said.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, no Victorian teams were able to enter the competition this year. However, for others it has presented an opportunity for reconnection to community and family.

Sydney Opera House Head of First Nations Programming Rhoda Roberts said Dance Rites has highlighted the reclamation work in communities—with almost every group submitting a Welcome to Country in language.

“It shows how much we have grown through reclamation and for the old people watching, the pride … You have to remember a lot of our Elders grew up in a period where this was outlawed by governments,” she said.

“It’s honouring to see those cultural guides share material that they have kept with them for so long even when they were silenced.

“To see young people doing reclamation and dance that has not been performed on that Country for over 100 years, truly says [something] about our resilience.” 

The winning dance group will receive $20,000, the runner-up $5,000 and $3,000 for the winner of the ‘wildcard’ heat.

The Rite of Passage award, valued at $4,000 will be awarded to a group that has significantly contributed to revitalising cultural practices and knowledge.

Judges for the 2020 competiton are:

  • Wiradjuri choreographer, teacher and producer Daniel Riley
  • Wakka Wakka and Kombumerri internationally recognised choreographer Katina Olsen
  • Mulanjali choreographer and physical theatre practitioner with connection to South East Queensland, the Torres Strait and Germany Kirk Page
  • Creative Luke Currie-Richardson, a descendant of the Kuku Yalanji and Djabugay peoples, the Munaldjali Clan of South East Queensland and the Meriam people of the Eastern Torres Strait Islands.

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By Rachael Knowles