Sydney Festival: I Am Eora

Last night I attended my first Sydney Festival event of the year: I Am Eora at Carriageworks. It was a mix of dance, music, theatre, and projection art, with a cast of Aboriginal performers from across the country. It was meant to be a modern manifestation of the spirit of some of the big figures in Sydney’s Aboriginal past.

Immediately after the show I had mixed feelings about it. It was well-staged, no doubt. The theatre at Carriageworks is big, and they used it to full effect, with lots of movement, sound, and lights. The projections that moved across the stage as people performed were very good, I thought. And it was earnest, heartfelt.

But it was hard for me to connect with, because while it ostensibly embodied the heroic characteristics of figures from the past it did almost nothing to sketch out the history of those figures for those who didn’t know them.

As a result many of the songs, while excitingly performed, did not connect well to the spirit they were after.

Twenty-four hours later I’ve realised that I was being a bit mundane. Sure, one (more pedestrian) approach would have been to tell the relevant history of these figures from the past and then point (quite prosaically) at how they are, or should be, aspired to today. But that would probably be pretty dry.

Last night’s performance was definitely not dry. It was a celebration. And the themes of defiance, of steadfast resilience, and thoughtful reconciliation were clear, and clearly made timely and relevant. So does it matter that I don’t know exactly how those historical figures manifested those traits? Probably not. Maybe being entertained in song and dance, and spoken to in ways that matter now, will last for me longer than a boring history lesson.

I still think the performance wore its heart on its sleeve a bit much, and some of the songs still don’t connect perfectly. But it was an exciting and interesting performance. And it’s a good example of how to talk about the present with a nod to the past, without wallowing in the past.


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