Rachael Swain delivers first Masterclass Series - 30.05.19

Four influential figures in Australian and international dance will visit NAISDA over the course of 2019 to deliver the inaugural Masterclass Series of workshops and lectures – made possible through the generosity of long-term NAISDA supporter, Linda Herd.

The first Masterclass guest on campus was Rachael Swain, founding member and co-artistic director of Marrugeku, one of Australia’s most innovative production companies.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary of its first production Mimi next year, Marrugeku pushes the boundaries between Indigenous and non-Indigenous dance to conceive new and compelling forms of cultural expression.

During her visit in May to present her masterclass to our Developing Artists, Rachael spoke with us about her career and dance philosophy.

Rachael (bottom row, centre) with some of NAISDA’s Developing Artists and trainers

What attracted you to a career based on Australian Indigenous Culture?

I was born and raised in Christchurch, New Zealand, and came to Australia when I was 17 to join drama school.

After growing up in a country where the Indigenous (Maori) culture is such a big part of everyday life and the education system, it was a shock to realise the same level of awareness did not exist with Aboriginal culture in Australia.

I actually arrived in the Bicentennial Year (1988) and it felt like a cultural vacuum. That’s what drove me to go and spend time with remote communities in the Northern Territory; I felt there was so much potential to strengthen and increase the connection between different communities.

How did Marrugeku come about and what are its philosophies?

Marrugeku’s first rehearsal period was in Gunbalanya, Western Arnhem Land in 1994 for our first project Mimi which was based on an original idea by Kamilaroi choreographer Michael Leslie. I was part of a large group of artists collaborating there under the guidance of the Kunwinjku Elders who helped conceive the work, in particular Thompson Yulidjuri.

Dancer and choreographer Dalisa Pigram who now co-directs the company with me, was one of the co-devising dancers in Mimi. Marrugeku was based in Gunbalanya for the first eight years before moving across to Broome in 2003.

For my part, Marrugeku taught me the importance of listening and never assuming there’s a certain way of doing things. Dancers have incredible scope to express so many ideas and concepts, from what’s inside them individually– to our collective history.

Telling stories that combine different voices from not only within Australia, but from First Nations cultures across the world, is our mission. Above all, we want it to reflect the contemporary life experiences while always remembering the strength of the oldest living cultures in the world through our processes.

Marrugeku is a small to medium sized company – it doesn’t have a permanent ensemble. We work with freelance dancers on each production, some of them become Associate Artists with the company, performing in many of our works and carrying the company’s methods with them.

Are there synergies between Marrugeku and NAISDA?

I feel as though I’ve known NAISDA for most of my working career, so it’s interesting that this is my first-ever visit to the campus.

Marrugeku was co-founded by Michael Leslie who was part of NAISDA from the beginning and Raymond Blanco joined Marrugeku from 1997 and worked with us as choreographer through the remainder of the period based in Arnhem Land, so there was some key influence from NAISDA in the mix in that early stage.

What will you be teaching Developing Artists as part of the Masterclass series?

If they can take away one thing from my lectures, it would be to value their own Imagination, experiences and knowledge. They are the conduit for their own future and history. American Modern Dance isn’t the only fusion partner for traditional Aboriginal dance.

I hope these dancers know that they can define the future of contemporary dance.

NAISDA Dance College would like to thank Rachael for contributing to our Masterclass Series and sharing her creative philosophies with our Developing Artists.