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Festival's Indigenous programme will teach you how to shape-shift


As Brisbane Festival prepares to open with its First Nations smoking ceremony, Jumoo, the next 23 days will be a celebration of local Indigenous talent including shape-shifter support group Weredingo. 

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Weredingo is a support group for shape-shifters, as the show marries a Western skepticism for magic with First Nations histories which celebrate becoming one with animals and land.

The show is a blend of contemporary dance, theatre, animation and projection and is led by Thomas E.S. Kelly, a proud Minjungbal-Yugambeh, Wiradjuri and Ni-Vanuatu man, founder of contemporary dance studio Karul Projects, and part-time shape-shifter.

Kelly said the idea for the show originated from learning about people who live as cat-human hybrids.

“We were laughing a little bit about stories of people who were proud they could finally become the cat they had always dreamed they could be,” Kelly told InQueensland.

“But that made us pause and consider why we were laughing when culturally, we are descendants of shape-shifters. Our ancestors were shape shifters.

“Some of our coolest stories – not that any of our stories aren’t cool – are about shapeshifting into birds to escape warring tribes, it’s in our DNA as Indigenous people and in the DNA of Indigenous people worldwide.

“That began the big exploration with developmental showings, then we made a mockumentary where we filmed people from the company in Petbarn playing with the toys and rubbing their heads on the cat scratch poles, and from there it became a fully fleshed-out show.”

Kelly said it had been fortuitous that the show, initially pegged for premiere in Melbourne, was eventually postponed to be premiered as part of Brisbane Festival which is currently featuring its largest programme of Indigenous works so far.

“First Nations art in Australia is the only type of art that you can’t get anywhere else, our culture isn’t just beers and barbecue,” said Kelly.

“The stories we tell are uniquely Australian and I think that it’s a missed opportunity if you don’t programme a significant amount of First Nations culture for the audience of wherever that place is.

“We have over 500 different language groups, we come from all across the country. The stories that I’m telling you are not the stories of First Nations Australia, it’s the stories of where I’m from, which is southeast Queensland and northern New South Wales.”

Brisbane Festival Indigenous Advisory Group chair Michelle Tuahine said the showcase would spotlight unique and untold stories.

“This year, First Nations artisans, performers and creatives share their intensely personal narratives through ceremony, smoke, songline and performance,” Ms Tuahine said.

“We look forward to sharing our world with you.”

The Festival begins with Jumoo, a smoking ceremony led by Yuggera and Turrbal man Shannon Ruska, Jumoo connects Brisbane Festival and its visitors to Country and cleanses the pathway for a peaceful journey.

Weredingo opens 3 September and runs until 11 September at Metro Arts as part of Brisbane Festival, for more information visit their website. 

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