When it came time for north-east Arnhem Land dance group Miku to make their wildcard pick for First Nations festival Dance Rites, the signs were clear.
“Our wildcard dance is Maralitja, a dance for the Gumatj tribe. Maralitja is the crocodile man,” says Rachael Wallis, director of the ensemble and a former Bangarra dancer. “One of our performers, Ngalkanbuy Munungurr, had a dream and we believe the ancestors came and told him that could be the dance for us.”
The group is performing for the first time at Dance Rites, a free annual festival devoted to First Nations’ dance, music and community held in front of the Sydney Opera House. “We’re doing all traditional Yolngu dance,” says Wallis. “The choreography is ancient.”
More than 300 dancers from around Australia have converged this weekend to showcase their culture and take part in the competition, with the top performances appearing in the finals on Sunday night. Festival-goers can also watch a special show of “pow wow” dances from Indigenous Enterprise, a Native American collective made up of champion dancers from tribes and nations across Canada and the United States.
Wallis is looking forward to connecting with other dancers at the festival and performing to those who want to learn more.
“It will be fabulous. It’s always a good time for other people and mainstream Australia to come and see what their First Nations people are doing and to share in the culture,” she says. “We want other people to be walking this land and feeling that spirit.”
Dance Rites, 3.30-8.30pm, Sydney Opera House Forecourt, free, sydneyoperahouse.com.