It sometimes seems as though the gulf between the remote northern Indigenous cultures of The Kimberley, Arnhemland, the Deserts and the Torres Strait are further removed from urban Blak cultures down south than Australia and China. In the cities we just see too little of traditional culture – part from the easily transportable art.
But the recently-departed Rhoda Roberts at the Sydney Opera House – based at Dubbagullee or Bennelong Point – did her best to bring First Nations together with an annual ‘Dancerites‘ festival of ceremony across all Australian nations. Each year since 2015, dance groups from all corners of the country have gathered to share traditional customs, language and contemporary culture.

However, in 2021, Dancerites was unable to proceed due to the impacts of COVID-19. In-lieu of the live event taking place on the Forecourt this year and to celebrate the impact of the festival over six years, the Opera House dug into its archives to create DANCERITES Deadly Moments, a digital work curated by Rhoda Roberts and presented by her successor as Head of First Nations Programming at the Opera House, Beau James.

The 17-minute film reflects on the festival’s history, celebrates key moments and shares vibrant behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. Audiences everywhere are invited to relive a selection of the brilliant moments and outstanding performances that tell stories of community and connection, and showcase the richness and diversity of First Nations culture. What you can see is that ceremony is still strong across the north – with groups appearing from the Torres Strait, The Kimberley, and Docker River. But that their southern cousins are doing their best too to rediscover (in some cases) the riches of body decoration, movement and music in their own traditions.

Included in this selection are the Djaadjawan Dancers – 2015; the Waang Djarii Dancers from La Perouse, the first time these women have gone public – 2015; the Mowanjum Dance Group – 2017; the Kulgoodah Dancers from Rockhampton, looking very modern – 2017; Allkumo Malpa Paman. Wild men from Cape York – 2017; Buja Buja Butterfly dancers from Wiradjuri Griffith – 2018; Melbourne’s Djirri Djirri – 2018; Meuram Murray Island Dancers, based in Townsville – 2019; the proud Pitjanjatjara women from the Docker River Mob and the Mutitjulu Mob – 2019; and Sydney’s own Jannawi Dance Clan – 2020

DANCERITES Deadly Moments is available to watch for free on Sydney Opera House’s streaming platform Stream.