News

Dancing to learn in the Yolngu way


7 April 2006

When the Gupapuyngu Dancers from Arnhem Land performed last month at WOMADelaide, ethnomusicologist Aaron Corn was dancing with them. So too were hundreds of others among the 75,000 patrons who attend this event.

Aaron Corn (centre) with the Gupapuyngu Dancers engaging WOMADelaide crowds in traditional Yolngu dance. (Photo: Thomas Christensen)
Aaron Corn (centre) with the Gupapuyngu Dancers engaging WOMADelaide crowds in traditional Yolngu dance. (Photo: Thomas Christensen)

The group’s producer and MC, Dr Corn - an Australian Postdoctoral Fellow with the Sydney Conservatorium of Music - has helped introduce international festival audiences in Australia and overseas to traditional Yolngu manikay (song) and bunggul (dance). Last year, this work took him and his Yolngu colleagues to Darwin, Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Paris and other French capitols.

“Our director Neparrnga Gumbula and I find that audiences respond to us much better when we remain true to the inclusive nature of the bunggul tradition and encourage them to be painted and share in the dancing experience,” he said. “Audiences rarely know what to expect from traditional performances and are always surprised and delighted by our approach.”

The Gupapuyngu Dancers ready to perform at WOMADelaide this year with director Neparrnga Gumbula (back row, 6th from right) and producer Aaron Corn (back row, 2nd from right). (Photo: Jane Gronow)
The Gupapuyngu Dancers ready to perform at WOMADelaide this year with director Neparrnga Gumbula (back row, 6th from right) and producer Aaron Corn (back row, 2nd from right). (Photo: Jane Gronow)

“Our collaborations span a decade of work on ARC-funded and other projects. One of our key aims is to record and document current generations of traditional performers for future reference while stimulating interest in those traditions and a burning lifelong desire to learn them among the young as we go.”

These projects include the ARC Discovery Project, 'When the Waters Will Be One', and the National Recording Project for Indigenous Performance in Australia.

As important is the benefit for traditional performers to find untapped commercial opportunities.

“Finding new rewards for performing traditional repertoires is one way to help Indigenous practitioners feel supported in their continuing struggle to maintain them,” Dr Corn said.

In August, Dr Corn will convene the Indigenous Performance Symposium at the Garma Festival, taking with him a group of Sydney University students to learn from his Yolngu colleagues.

Media enquiries: 9351 2261, mobile 0423 782 603.