Aboriginal and Islander Dance Theatre

by Zoe Pollock, 2008 Creative Commons License Cite this

Aboriginal and Islander Dance Theatre

Zoe Pollock

The Aboriginal and Islander Dance Theatre grew out of the Black Theatre and the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Scheme. Developed at first as a course called Careers in Dance, the Aboriginal and Islander Dance Theatre aimed to create opportunities for Indigenous people to have careers in professional dance. [1]

The theatre had direct links with the black power movement in the United States, and was founded by an African-American dancer, Carole Johnson. Johnson had originally come to Australia as part of the Eleo Pomare Dance Company in 1972. Members of the company were struck by the 'colonial attitudes' of white Australia. [2] Johnson was asked by the Australia Council to stay on in Australia, to work with Aboriginal people to develop Indigenous theatre. [3] Johnson used her grant from the Australia Council to establish workshops for Aboriginal people in the St James Church Hall, Bridge Road, Glebe. She later reflected:

In these classes, urban Aboriginal people learned how to create dances to express their social concerns, were introduced to traditional movements, and began to explore ways to fuse traditional Aboriginal movements with modern dance movements. [4]

The Aboriginal and Islander Dance Theatre was established in 1975 as a full time training program for Indigenous dancers. The students were schooled in traditional dances as well as contemporary styles. The dance theatre successfully launched the careers of many Aboriginal dancers. It also toured nationally and internationally, raising the profile of Aboriginal dance.

In 1989 Carole Johnson resigned, citing the administrative burden of keeping the school together and driving the company forward as too much of a strain. Johnson believed that the school and the company were too closely tied and complicated by conflicting aims. The multiple grants from various government departments that kept the company afloat were placing demands on the administration to fulfil differing criteria. [5]

But Johnson's departure was also attributed to a shift within the organisation towards Aboriginalisation. John Alderman, who succeeded Johnson, was appointed in 1987. This followed an ultimatum from the Aboriginal Arts Board: appoint Aboriginal people in senior roles or funding will cease. [6] In 1991, Raymond Blanco was appointed creative director, becoming the first Indigenous person to lead a dance company in Australia.

Notes

[1] 'The development of a dance theatre', Aboriginal News, vol 3 no 9, 1980, pp 17–18
[2] Raymond Robinson, 'Dreaming Tracks: The History of the Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Scheme, 1972–1979', MA Honours thesis, University of Western Sydney, 2000, p 17, http://handle.uws.edu.au:8081/1959.7/76
[3] 'The development of a dance theatre', Aboriginal News, vol 3 no 9, 1980, p 18
[4] Carole Johnson quoted in Raymond Robinson, 'Dreaming Tracks: The History of the Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Scheme, 1972–1979', MA Honours thesis, University of Western Sydney, 2000, p 25
[5] Karen Van Ulzen, 'The quest for self-management', Dance Australia, August-September 1990, p 21
[6] Karen Van Ulzen, 'The quest for self-management', Dance Australia, August-September 1990, p 23
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