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The Other Side of Me: a story about Australia’s Stolen Generations

28th July 2023

The Other Side of Me tells the true and tragic story of a young Aboriginal man who was taken from his mother and brought up in the Southwest of England.

It brings together an Indigenous Australian choreographer, a Black British writer, and an academic in dance, with an inclusive and diverse creative team, to devise a dance duet that explores the young man’s extraordinary journey and his process of rediscovery – a search for self.

The production - a cross-cultural collaboration between Northumbria University and Gary Lang, of the Northern Territory Dance Company (NTDC) - premieres at the Darwin Festival, Australia 2023. The two dancers represent the young man’s dual identities - the English side he knew and the Indigenous side from which he had been severed.

The project forms a long-term partnership between Gary Lang, a senior Larrakia man and Artistic Director of the Indigenous-owned, Darwin-based, NTDC; and Dr Laura Fish and Liz Pavey, Assistant Professors at Northumbria University. It communicates a story of personal trauma and poses important ethical and practical questions concerning the cultural and personal dispossession the First Australians suffered under white and colonial rule, by combining contemporary and traditional Indigenous Australian dance with written words.

The work is inspired by the life of a young First Nations man of Gurindji heritage whose story is inseparable from the Australian federal and state government policies (1910 until mid-1970s) to wrongfully remove children of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent from their families and culture – the Stolen Generations.

Lang has toured internationally and works as an ambassador for First Nations cultures through his practice, which embraces and combines contemporary, classical and traditional Aboriginal dance, in his own unique dance form described as Aboriginal Ballet. Fish and Pavey have combined their expertise to develop the project with Lang for over five years.

Issues raised by the story include relationships between country of origin, identity, adoption, the criminal justice system and psychological health. These are of particular topical interest because this October Australians will vote on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum, which could see the formation of a federal advisory body made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice would represent the views of First Nations people from across Australia and provide their input into federal government decisions, policies and laws that affect their lives.

The research forms part of a wider project, ‘When Words Fail Us’ Expressing the Unspeakable: The Other Side of Me. The project addresses issues that stem from the Australian holocaust of the eighteenth century, including the constructs, notions, or assumptions of racial inferiority, as well as the dispossession and subjugation of First Nations peoples resulting from colonisation. The likelihood of the removal of Indigenous Australian children from their families has increased since the “Bringing Them Home” Australian National Inquiry report (1997). With the particular focus on Stolen Generations’ stories, Fish and Pavey’s research refuses to historicise past atrocities, and contributes to international discourses on forced assimilation, genocide, and attempts to destroy traditional Indigenous life and cultures.

As Dr Fish explains: “This artistic collaboration explores experiences of Indigeneity in the contemporary world, and it uses a leap of faith and imagination - physical theatre and choreographed dance - to create live public performances that engage with the concepts of space, displacement, confinement and loss.

“Traditionally, dance has a very important place in the Indigenous cultures of Australia. We are thrilled to work in partnership with Gary Lang. Gary’s background as a dancer, teacher and choreographer means he is in a unique position to tell this story, which is of global significance and pertinence.”

Speaking about the ambiguity and equivocalness of dance, Gary has said: ‘I would like it [The Other Side of Me] to be seen on stages throughout the world. People will see the story from different angles. It’s like a multi-faceted gem – it sparkles in a different way, or it’s dull in a different way.”

The Other Side of Me will be performed at The Darwin Festival from 9 – 12 August 2023.

For more information about The Other Side of Me please visit the project website, or contact Dr Laura Fish or Liz Pavey.

 

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