Bruce Pascoe’s 2014 book Dark Emu provided readers with a far lesser-known perspective of pre-contact Indigenous history, providing evidence of village populations, crop harvesting, irrigation and other agricultural techniques that flies in the face of the hunter-gather image many imagine.
While adapting a history book into a contemporary dance performance might seem an unlikely union, for one of Australia’s leading Indigenous performing arts companies, Bangarra, it makes perfect sense.
Canberra dancer Luke Currie-Richardson says a significant transition was required from last year’s production, Bennelong, about first contact to one focused on ancient Indigenous agricultural techniques.
“Coming to dance about the practices of the earth, (Bangarra artistic director Stephen Page’s) creative mind is like a blueprint; he puts it out there and gives us a feeling of emotion he wants to portray.”
While not having read Pascoe’s book prior to the production, Currie-Richardson was nonetheless aware of the various agricultural structures and practices Indigenous Australians had in place pre-contact.
“I didn’t know it all but nothing surprised me in that sense; I knew we had little clans … I knew structures like that existed.
“What I really appreciated was how Uncle Bruce (Pascoe) used the observations recorded in the first diaries of the Europeans to back his point up and strengthen his arguments,” he says.
Having begun performing Dark Emu in Sydney in early June, Currie-Richardson says the show is settling very nicely amongst the performers.
“We’re fine-tuning things day in, day out; as an artist in live performance you’re never happy with the performance.
“Each night for me personally there’s certain sections where we get creative licence and that’s where I really look to hone everything in.
“It’s the music and the story that’s getting familiar so by the time we get to Canberra it’ll all be quite fluid.”
Currie-Richardson joined Bangarra in 2012, and says it’s an honour and a privilege for him to be a part of that company.
“I count my blessings every day coming from where I came from to where I am now.”
He says his dance career has gifted him a long journey that’s involved performing on the world stage from Paris to New York to Istanbul.
He’s also taken a lot of pleasure from the opportunities to explore regional Australia and visit a number of remote Indigenous communities, both performing and running dance workshops.
“It’s all been this incredible whirlwind … the people I’ve got to meet, it’s been amazing.”
Having traveled far and wide, Currie-Richardson’s childhood home of Canberra still holds a special place in his heart.
“It was the perfect place to grow up, and I think it’s the best place to raise a family … that’s a slight dig at my partner,” he smiles.
“When you see the big world, Canberra’s home and a nice place, and I get to miss it a bit.”
He grew up playing basketball at a very high level, and decided to pursue dance seriously at age 18 via QL2, a time he reflects on fondly.
“The patience and the open heart of Ruth and Garry, working with me coming from that background and having not done contemporary dance.
“You go into production week and they give you the taste of what it’s like to be a dancer, and then I would get feedback from the other parents who said I looked like a seasoned performer.
“The QL2 community was so supportive, it gave me the belief I could make something of it,” he says.
Dark Emu by Bangarra Dance Theatre will be performed at the Canberra Theatre, 26-28 July; tickets via canberratheatrecentre.com.au