Bangarra’s Dance Clan Spotlights The Next Generation Of Storytellers

After a 10-year hiatus, Bangarra Dance Theatre's Dance Clan is back with a new generation of storytellers, choreographers, dancers, designers and composers.

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After a 10-year hiatus, Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Dance Clan is back with a new generation of storytellers, choreographers, dancers, designers and composers. As part of the program, seasoned Bangarra dancer Ryan Pearson is presenting his first choreographic work. He sat down with Junkee’s Claire Keenan to share how euphoria, trauma and culture inspires his moves.

For 32 years, Bangarra Dance Theatre has told the stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through song, dance, poetry and design. Led by First Nations peoples since its inception, and drawing on 65,000 years of culture, the dance company has become a national cultural force.

Bangarra has a long history of fostering emerging storytellers, designers, dancers and choreographers through the much-loved program Dance Clan. “Dance Clan is one of the ways we cultivate the ground to raise the next generation of Cultural leaders,” the company writes on its website. “Each step they make crafts a new Songline for Bangarra, a path to follow into the future.”

Ryan Pearson joined Bangarra as a dancer in 2017 and, as part of Dance Clan 2023, is presenting his first choreographic work, 5 Minute Call. The work explores Ryan’s unique experiences as a young Indigenous gay man, alongside the experiences of the other six First Nations dancers in his piece.

Junkee was lucky enough to be invited backstage at Dance Clan rehearsals, where we spoke to Pearson about 5 Minute Call and how his background and experience informs his creative practice.

Junkee: Hey Ryan, let’s do intros.

My name is Ryan Pearson. I am a Biripi, Worimi, Minang, Goreng and Balardung man from Taree, New South Wales, and I am in my seventh year with Bangarra Dance Theatre.

Talk us through the vision of your Dance Clan piece?

The work I’ve created for this year’s Dance Clan is called 5 Minute Call. In essence, it’s a love letter to myself and the other dancers about where they go when they leave the world to find their euphoria. The show will feature six vignettes for each of the six dancers. I chose to do the six vignettes in recognition of what the dancers gave me in terms of their own personal euphoria.

The one big thing that I wanted for this show is to not show the trauma, to not show the arguments and the fights and the darkness. I just wanted to show the release and the euphoria. To show happiness, I think is also a [form of] resilience – in showing fight, in showing passion to do more for Indigenous mob.

Can you tell me how you came up with this idea for the piece?

Sometimes I think about how I could utilise my time more strongly, connecting with my personal community, and also connecting with myself. I ask myself, is this really what I want to do? Is this how I want to approach [dance], as an Indigenous queer artist?

My family’s not short of trauma in their lives, [whether] Indigenous trauma or the contemporary trauma that we deal with in this day and age. I carry that with me. Both of my grandmothers were a part of the Stolen Generation. We talk about the Stolen Generation being some time ago, but it’s still very fresh in our family and it’s still a shadow that we have to deal with.

So [with] all that weight coming down, at a certain [[age I found]] myself looking for an escape, looking for a way to get rid of that weight. And that came with certain openings — going out at night, being free with my friends, having drinks and having a really good time. And dancing on the dance floor was really where I found the sense of release. It was my favourite place for most of my twenties.

[But] I found myself sort of abusing that time. This was a very big 2020 COVID reflection. I looked at myself in the mirror, asking why am I doing this? I’m getting drunk and I’m wasting time and I’m coming to work. Is this the best thing that I should be [doing] at this point in time?

So the show in itself isn’t an answer to those questions, it’s just acknowledging that that is a real thing.

How did this idea then get brought to your dancers?

We sat down on the very first day, with our butcher’s paper and textbooks and I just wanted them to have a response to my story. Some responded in artworks, some responded in words and storytelling, some responded in drawing the map of their country.

As time went on, we developed it [and] we realised that each person’s euphoria has a uniqueness. We’re all in this community of contemporary dance and in the arts, and we’re all Indigenous. So, there were similarities. However, in terms of our own history and our own upbringing, there were differences there. How we found our own personal euphoria has its uniqueness.

What’s your favourite part about visual storytelling?

I think the one thing that I love about storytelling is that it’s personal. I have four older sisters, [and] growing up we always loved dance. I had a grandmother, like I said, who was part of the Stolen Generation, and she became the first Indigenous ballerina. She was in the West Australian ballet in ‘59 when she was 18, so it was always in our blood to perform.

There’s something that’s so deep about it that I cannot get anywhere else, and telling Indigenous stories is just another layer of pride on top of that.

You can watch Dance Clan at Bangarra’s Studio Theatre on Gadigal Country, Walsh Bay, from February 4-18. Get your tickets.