Different inflections : intercultural dance in Australia

Stock, Cheryl F. (2008) Different inflections : intercultural dance in Australia. The Korean Journal of Dance, 57(30 Dec), pp. 289-310.


Australia has often been defined by its landscape – actual, romanticized, imagined – iconic images and experiences taken up by artists in a myriad of ways. And yet, apart from the 40,000 year old imprint of the Indigenous population, we are an immigrant people from somewhere else. This paper examines inter/intra cultural practices of four Australian dance companies and their directors, and how they inflect images of Australia in different ways. Each artist brings perspectives from their particular hybridized cultural and ethnic backgrounds as well as their formative dance experiences. In their practices, notions of landscape embrace physical, metaphorical and spiritual dimensions.

Kai Tai Chan, who founded the One Extra Company in 1976, pioneered accessible and confronting intercultural dance theatre in Australia from the 1970s to the 1990s, challenging our notions of what it is to be Australian. A Chinese Malay who came to Australia to study architecture, he stayed to create a significant body of work in which different cultural frameworks became lenses through which to explore stories of ordinary lives and experiences, revealing complexities of the human condition and larger social-political issues.

Whilst Kai Tai’s formative influences included immersion in the cultural heritage of his country of origin, Stephen Page, an Indigenous Australian, was brought up in an urban environment with little exposure to Indigenous cultural traditions. It was through his dance training at NAISDA (National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development) that he connected with his traditional and spiritual roots. These ongoing connections have been instrumental in his development of Bangarra Dance Theatre, founded in 1989, which has become a bridge between two worlds of Indigenous contemporaneity and traditional values - with the pivotal contribution of traditional performer and cultural consultant Djakapurra Munyarryun. A landmark work, Rites, a major collaboration between The Australian Ballet and Bangarra Dance Theatre, is a bold intercultural experiment between European and Indigenous cultures.

Spiritual connections of a different nature feature strongly in the practice of another Chinese Malay Australian, Tony Yap. Here the landscape is an inner one influenced by a form of Malaysian trance dance known as the sen-siao (“spirit cloud”) tradition. Yap has forged a unique space in the Australian dance and theatre scene, exploring a movement language informed by psycho-physical research, Asian shamanistic trance dance, Butoh, voice and visual design. Whilst primarily a solo performer, his practice includes collaborations with Asian diasporic as well as Anglo Australian cross-cultural visual and sound artists. His work is situated in a metaphysical rather than socio-political context.

In contrast, the newest company to emerge on the intercultural Australian stage is Polytoxic, reflecting a Pacific rather than Asian inflection. Key members, Fa’alafi and Efeso Fa’anana (both of Samoan descent) and Leah Shelton (of Anglo-Saxon descent), aim to critique the exoticism and cultural kitsch that often accompanies representations of the Pacific islands, with a pastiche of street dance, cabaret and contemporary techniques, blended with traditional Polynesian vocabulary. A parallel aim is to provide audiences with insights into the traditions and history of Samoa from the perspective of the artists as contemporary Australians.

This examination, spanning three decades of inter/intra cultural practices, reveals stylistic, generational and philosophical differences with a commonality of variously inflected notions of landscape, spirituality and identity.

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ID Code: 18843
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: dance, intercultural, Australia
ISSN: 1598-4672
Divisions: Past > Schools > Dance
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2008 The Korean Society of Dance and the author
Deposited On: 18 Mar 2009 21:04
Last Modified: 12 May 2013 17:22

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