Dance Rites: a celebration of First Nations culture – online

SOH-Dance-RitesThe Sydney Opera House will present its sixth annual Dance Rites festival online next month, bringing together 28 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dance groups in a celebratory digital event with more than 350 performers spanning generations, nations and clan groups.

Australia’s annual First Nations dance competition seeks to revitalise vanishing cultural practices and showcase the richness and diversity of First Nations culture. It will be broadcast on the Opera House’s digital channels over four consecutive nights from Wednesday 11 – Saturday 14 November, coinciding with NAIDOC Week. The finals, in partnership with NITV, will air on Saturday 21 November.

“While Dance Rites is coming to you a little differently this year, it has never felt more like a community event,” Sydney Opera House Head of First Nations Programming Rhoda Roberts AO. “It’s incredible to see groups from every corner of the country rising to the challenge of an online competition and submitting outstanding performances that tell stories of community, connection to land and overcoming adversity.”

“About 1500 dancers have participated since the festival began in 2015 – and the enthusiasm this year is no exception. We’ve also seen an increase in registrations from groups in remote communities, with many acknowledging the deep cultural significance of performing their dances and songlines on country,” said Roberts.

Dance Rites 2020 will include performances from:

  • Djakapurra Dancers led by Djakapurra Munyarryun, often described as Bangarra’s spirit man and the Songman for the Sydney 2000 Olympics Games;
  • Mornington Island Dance Group, who performed for the opening of the Opera House in 1973;
  • The all-female Dyiraamalang (Wiradjuri for ‘leader’) who came together to reclaim their dance practice and share it with their community; and
  • Luurnpa Dancers led by prominent artist and senior law man Jimmy Tchooga.

The broadcast will include two filmed dances from each group: a traditional dance (either a welcome or a farewell) and a ‘wildcard’ dance that may fuse contemporary dance and music with tradition. Groups will be assessed on authenticity, reclamation work, use of costumes and revitalised crafts and cultural materials, along with fusion of language and music.

The winning group will receive $20,000, one runner-up will receive $5,000, and $3,000 will go to the highest-scoring ‘wildcard’ dance. The $4,000 Rite of Passage Award acknowledges one group’s outstanding contribution to revitalising cultural knowledge and practices.

This year’s competition will be judged by:

  • Daniel Riley, a choreographer, dancer, teacher and producer from the Wiradjuri nation of Western NSW who is a former principal dancer with Bangarra and producer with ILBIJERRI;
  • Katina Olsen, a choreographer who has worked throughout Australia, Canada, UK, USA and Europe with the likes of Bangarra, Sydney Dance Company and Wesley Enoch, hailing from Wakka Wakka and Kombumerri nations;
  • Luke Currie-Richardson, a descendant of the Kuku Yalanji and Djabugay peoples, the Munaldjali Clan of South East Queensland and the Meriam people of the Eastern Torres Strait Islands, who studied dance at NAISDA and the Queensland University of Technology, and has danced with Bangarra; and
  • Kirk Page, a Mulanjali man born on unceded country in Tulmur QLD with lineage connected to South East Queensland the Torres Strait Islands and Germany who is a choreographer, dancer and physical theatre practitioner who has worked with Legs on The Wall, the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony, Bangarra and Force Majeure.

In 2019, the Opera House became the first major Australian arts institution to announce its commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which provide a roadmap to address the world’s most pressing challenges by 2030.

This is reflected in the Opera House’s fifth Reconciliation Action Plan (2020-2022), which commits to initiatives that will enable our vision for reconciliation – to foster and celebrate a shared sense of belonging for all Australians.

“Though we cannot be together on the Forecourt to celebrate Dance Rites this year, I’m delighted that the Opera House is able to present this significant event online, sharing First Nations cultural heritage on a global stage and enabling communities across the nation to join in this vital cultural exchange,” said NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the Arts, Don Harwin.

Dance Rites 2020 will be broadcast on the Sydney Opera House’s digital channels from Wednesday 11 – Saturday 14 November – with finals taking place on Saturday 21 November 2020. For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Dance Rites 2020 – courtesy of Sydney Opera House