Australian Dance Week Canberra Tammi Gissell
First Nation dancer and choreographer Tammi Gissell’s new work, 'Mundaguddah', is the first major work she has created in seven years, posing an enriching, challenging creative process. Photo Anthony Browell.

Put on your dancing shoes, Canberra; with a host of events right across the capital, Ausdance ACT’s Australian Dance Week launches today, 29 April, to coincide with International Dance Day.

Ausdance ACT director, Dr Cathy Adamek, told Canberra Weekly she’s “really excited” for Australian Dance Week after the 2020 iteration went online.

“Coming out of the Covid year last year where we lost the ability to be able to express ourselves and go see live performance … for the first time we’re able to, with very few restrictions, celebrate all the aspects of dance practice,” she said. “It’s quite liberating to be at this point I think, it’s a celebration.”

While bringing people together through movement and performance, Australian Dance Week highlights the best of Canberra’s local dance while also encouraging all to participate.

“We wanted to make something that was accessible but also engaged all spectrums of dance practice,” Adamek said.

“The ecology of dance stretches everything from dance studios up to national institutions and professional practice,” she said, “and Ausdance attempts to support all that diversity too.”

Mundaguddah capping a vibrant program

Australian Dance Week Canberra
Australian Dance Week highlights the best of local dance like Australian Dance Party (pictured) while also encouraging all to participate. Photo Lorna Sim.

Running until 9 May, the Dance Week 2021 program comprises everything from free classes and workshops to pop-up dance at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) and a dance music commission for First Nation dancer and choreographer, Tammi Gissell, titled Mundaguddah.

Taking place at the National Gallery’s Fairfax Theatre, Gissell will be accompanied by a live performance from the Sydney-based Ensemble Offspring.

The piece has been specially commissioned by both Ausdance ACT and the Canberra International Music Festival and is a response to Brian Howard’s 1982 composition, The Rainbow Serpent.

The Indigenous people of north-west NSW, where Gissell grew up, refer to the spirit of The Rainbow Serpent as Mundaguddah.

“You can’t really muck around with it, I didn’t want to be offending my own people by not doing this justice,” she said.

This piece marks Gissell’s first major work in seven years. Producing it has been a challenge, forcing her to innovate and reinvent her creative processes.

“Normally music is absolutely primary to what you’re doing, I often can’t create something until I’ve found the right music,” she said, “and the music was already chosen for me.

“How I was structuring things was not based on even rhythms, because the music is so out there … it’s been quite personal and challenging for me, made me realise how real this stuff is actually and how present the spirit of Mundaguddah has been in my life,” she said.

While in town, Gissell will also run a workshop at the Canberra Theatre Centre on Saturday 8 May 3-4.30pm.

Having an opportunity to inspire the next generation is important for her, especially with “so much of the focus on sharing” at Dance Week.

“To get in the room with people, get sweaty, and share your trials and tribulations, it’s nice to be able to share a few of those things,” she said.

Another partnership, between Ausdance ACT and the National Portrait Gallery, has created Love Dance, an on-site dance installation that will see pop-up performances and workshops take place in “unexpected and unusual places inside and outside” set against “that modernist concrete”.

“It happens to time beautifully with their Australian Love Stories exhibition, too,” Adamek said.

Coming from Adelaide to step into her role with Ausdance ACT in September last year, this will be Adamek’s first Australian Dance Week in Canberra and she’s “really excited about pretty much every aspect of it”.

“And connecting with everyone, too; it’s an opportunity for the dance sector to come together and catch up in new ways as well.

“The dance community here is not so big that people get left out, everyone’s connected back to everybody else. There’s a lot of ease in that.”

Australian Dance Week will take place with events across the Canberra from 29 April to 9 May;

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