On the eve of January 26, a date that polarises the country, The Vigil is a night of performance and reflection held at Sydney’s Barangaroo Reserve.

The Vigil is a part of Sydney Festival 2021, an annual festival that has celebrated Australian arts practices with a program full of artists and companies for 44 years.

Returning for its third year, The Vigil is a free event that provides a safe space for participants to consider Australia’s Indigenous History.

Hosted by TV personality Karla Grant, the night saw performances from the likes of Emma Donovan, Buuja Buuja Butterfly Dance, Matthew Doyle and Jannawi Dance Clan.

The opening performance from Bangarra Dance Theatre was co-directed by NRL legend Dean Widders and Bangarra Artistic Director Stephen Page.

It brought together men from the worlds of sport, the arts, politics and of all generations to celebrate their strength and responsibility for their families and communities.

Community leaders Stan Grant, Cody Walker and Adam Goodes led the dance along with Widders, and all spoke of their own connection to culture and community.

Activist and poet Luke Currie-Richardson performed a spoken word piece entitled Social Media, highlighting the emotional labour it takes to participate in discourse through social platforms.

Through his poem, Currie-Richardson held the fleeting nature of trends up against the rising rates of Indigenous suicide, the impact of Indigenous deaths in custody and the generational trauma First Nations people endure.

Wesley Enoch, Sydney Festival Director and proud Noonuccal Nuugi man, said the motivation to hold an experience like The Vigil was to honour the Indigenous perspective the day before January 26.

“It’s not about a protest, or stopping other events from occurring, but to provide an opportunity to come and stay overnight and place yourself in an empathetic position and reflect on what First Nations Australians would feel,” he said.

“The idea of protest is in response to the arrival of the First Fleet, The Vigil on the 25th is a moment about us, and a safe space for First Nations and other waves of migration to have a moment of reflection.”

“Often a rally, march or protest is a vocal, outward experience whereas a vigil can be a contemplative space. There’s no right or wrong here, a quiet contemplative space is just as important.”

Enoch added that Sydney Festival is an opportunity to build a robust community of discussion and debate as well as a safe space to do so.

“Creating structures that have a multiplicity of perspectives built into them is important, at the festival it isn’t going to have just one Blackfulla show, it has a dozen or more,” he said.

“It’s no longer about representation sitting on the shoulders of one person or project, you can see a diversity of views.

“The Vigil is the same, it invites multiple perspectives and voices, to sit in reflection together.” 

By Darby Ingram