“Walking on stone and cement, it can be hard to remember what it feels like to have Earth beneath our feet.”– Of The Land on Which We Meet
The vast majority of Australians, from all walks of life, will tell you that their connection to our Earth is just that touch deeper, we play in the Ocean, climb trees as we grow and find importance in our dirt. Of The Land On Which We Meet is a poignant and poetic piece, using movement and experience to tell stories, demand emotion and open up about the importance of acknowledgement to Country and how many of us have forgotten the spirituality of the land. Weaving together contemporary dance and acrobatics as they move around each other, move through each other and share their meanings of walking on Country, asking us to think harder about when we do acknowledgment to country and pay deeper attention when it’s being delivered.
Johnathon Brown, Manelaya Kaydos-Nitis and Isabelle Champagne-Chittick. Three performers, three cultures, three stories, yet, one common ground, our Land, our Nation. We open to a minimal stage, low lit, intriguing, one hanging frame. Johnathon enters sliding onto the floor, we watch as he moves his body in ways that are out of reach for many of us, and finally – he speaks. Of indigenous heritage, proudly claiming his mob, he tells us that ever since he was a child, he was taught that before he goes anywhere, when he steps outside he should place his hand on the ground, close his eyes and have a moment. He never understood why, he just did it, not realising he was being taught to acknowledge the land he walked on before ever stepping foot on it, a teaching that results in deep love, connection and respect for our Earth. Manelaya and Isabelle follow, holding the stage individually, moving their way into their speech of their connection to Country.
With their bodies as their storytellers before their words even have a chance to follow they move intentionally. Johnathon moves with purpose, a knowing, Manelaya moves with such fluidity unlike anything I have seen, her top half moves and her bottom half follows. Isabelle felt like a mix of the two, as if their energies carried into her movements, protecting her and moulding her. The chemistry of these three incredible performers felt felicitous. One of the most special moments of the show, for me, was when Jonathon leaped into Manelayas arms, legs and arms wrapped around her, you could see the safety of their connection, like a child taking cover in their mothers protection, there was a knowing of unspoken love, the ability for Jonathon to lean on Manelaya fully, without words and the innate knowing that she has him.
Harley Manns connection to country absolutely incarnates in the intensity of deep emotional fullness of his shows, finding new ways to connect history to our present, and these three performers did his message justice. In a way, the expression that can be felt in circus arts serves as a deep universal dialect of the indigenous people, embodying a profound connection with their heritage. However, outside of this, expression through body is truly a universal dialect of us all. It is one of the most honest ways we communicate. Mann explains that “You know when your partner is pissed off at you, and when your mum is in love with you. They don’t have to say it, because your body language and tone, your energy and vibe transcend that, and our brains are designed to pick up on it.”
Upon writing this review, I thought the only downfall I experienced through this performance, was the script, it felt quite unrehearsed, a bit last minute, dancing around a few mess ups. As I put myself back in the place of what I felt during this show while exploring Manns message, I realised – it was the very thing that closed the circle. It was the messenger proving Manns point. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have lived on this continent upward of sixty thousand years.
Thousands of years of tradition means we are not the first, nor will we be the last to experience this land, to feel this land, to connect with this land. Mann appreciates that all these spirits of people before and after are sitting in the same space and time. Acknowledgment to Country is an important opportunity to show awareness and respect to the Traditional Custodians of the land upon which we meet. It is also an opportunity to allow yourself to connect with our sacred land and explore what it means to you. So every acknowledgment can be as individual as it needs to be, it can be unrehearsed, it can be last minute, you can dance around a few mess ups, so long as it comes from a place of genuine listening, learning and respect, it is okay to make mistakes. So long as it comes from your heart and soul, the very things that allow you to feel connected to the land on which you walk upon. Allowing room for mistakes when there is a want to try, is how we move forward and get better. Responding to mistakes with teachings rather than vilifying efforts, is just one way we can build our connection to the land, and to each other, decreasing the gap that should have been diminished long, long ago.
This tremendous art piece explores individual ways Australians connect to Country. The common ground is our difference, is our ability to share, whatever that may look like. Our commonality is our genuine want to try and be better, our need to create space for First Nations people to harmoniously exist, be respected, and teach those with a yearning to learn. Country lives within all of us, no matter our background. There is so much importance on the fact that these three marvellous performers come from different walks of life, different cultures, different experience – showing us that there are so many beautiful ways to be Australian, but in each of those ways, the importance Of The Land On Which We Meet is at our core.
Recommended Drink: Way-a-Linah, sap tapped out of the trees by Aboriginal peoples, fermented to an alcoholic, cider-like beverage, to reconnect to this show, the land, and yourself, in a way of mind, a way of body and a way of spirit.
Performances of Of The Land on Which We Meet have now concluded at Melbourne Fringe 2023. Keep up with the performers online for future showings.