“I think all First Nations people have some connection to the Milky Way,” says Northern Territory Indigenous choreographer Gary Lang.
Lang is currently in Perth where members of his NT Dance Company are working with West Australian Ballet on a groundbreaking open-air performance for the company’s 2018 season.
For his first collaboration with a classical ballet company, Lang has drawn on his culture and come up with Milngia, Milky Way — River of Stars, which conveys the story of spirits being called and then granted permission to leave.
The dance will be accompanied by the voice of Indigenous WA Opera singer Deborah Cheetham.
The performance is the title dance of ‘Ballet at the Quarry’, an annual season of performances at the Quarry Amphitheatre in the coastal Perth suburb of City Beach.
This year’s season will run from February 9 to March 3.
“I have family stories through Larrakia and family stories in East Arnhem Land.
“It’s about my grandfather’s stories, like when people pass from this world, they leave and there are some that stay around, so there was a ceremony that brought them together, to give them permission to step onto the river of stars, the Milky Way,” Lang explains.
“The Milky Way in Arnhem Land talks about two men that go fishing. There’s a very big story on that one.”
But Lang says for the Quarry show, he has kept to the Larrakia and Yolngu influences.
It is one of four short dance performances that will make up the night. The others are Ghost Gum by WA Ballet dancer Christopher Hill, World Creation by French choreographer Patrick Delcroix and Les Indomptes by French choreographer Claude Brumachon.
Lang says he met WA Ballet artistic director, Belgium-born Aurelien Scannella, about five years ago. At the time Lang was working with the Ochre Contemporary Dance Company.
“Aurelien watched what I was doing and told me he’d like to work with me,” Lang says.
“I was blown away that someone of that calibre and from the heights of the dance world would just go with a feeling and want to take a risk with a non-mainstream company, with an Indigenous choreographer.
“I love West Australian Ballet for that.”
Lang began work on the Milky Way show in late 2016. Last year, Scannella and his family visited Darwin and Gove in Arnhem Land to meet Lang’s family and cultural Elders in the Yirrkala community.
This week, rehearsals began in Perth ahead of opening night.
The stage will be shared by three dancers from the NT Dance Company, WA Ballet dancers, traditional Bungal dancers, a traditional song man, and a didgeridoo or Yidaki player.
“I call it Aboriginal ballet and it is done with opera singing,” Lang says.
“Deborah Cheetham, she’s the spirit woman. It’s the call and response and she calls the spirits.
“When you see the lady, she has a presence and she comes with the spirit of her nation, her family group. An amazing looking lady and an amazing voice.
“It is about spirit, being called to a ground and being given permission to leave.”
Lang says the experience has opened many doors and he’d love for the show to be performed in the Top End.
“It was amazing. What I felt … they embraced us,” he says of the ballet dancers. “It wasn’t them and us. And we embraced them.
“To quote Deborah Cheetham, it’s a game changer. It’s us inviting them into our culture and just showing a very small snippet of the theme, without giving too much information away.”
- Ballet at the Quarry runs from February 9 to March 3. Tickets available from Ticketmaster at: ticketmaster.com.au.