In Conversation with Ghenoa Gela


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The winning piece of this year’s KEIR choreographic awards Fragments of Malungoka- Woman of the Sea, bought to audience in both Melbourne and Sydney a performance that modernized traditional dance from the Kala Lagaw Ya language group in Western Torres Straits, presenting the melding of old and new. Created by Ghenoa Gela, it was perhaps the one performance that sublimely rebelled against a program that otherwise had all eyes ahead, keenly set on the future of dance, sole focused and eager to embrace only the extensions of body through technology and device.

What was the genesis for the work you created, what where you hoping to explore or perhaps even answer?

I was really interested in my female ancestry on my mother’s side, and I wanted to explore what that was, so I had conversations with my mum’s older sister Aunty Agnes, she gave me insight and stories into what happened up in the communities up in the Torres Straits. See I was born in Rocky (Rockhampton), I’m a mainland born Torres Straits Islander and I was very interested in what the community was like up there, so that was where it pretty much started.

The contemporizing of your work, what brought you to use technology in the work?

Well, we live in a technological era, and go-pros seem to be a pretty fantastic thing at the moment, they’re easily accessible, and I was interested in what they could do with live streaming, that’s kind of what we are looking at now, every time we turn on Youtube somethings going on like that. I was trying to join the traditional world with the modern world, right now.

With so much conversation surrounding The KEIR awards as perhaps being to tech-heavy, what’s your perspective on this?

I think people can do whatever they feel they want to do, or use whatever they feel they want to do, in terms of telling their story or sending their message, we are definitely living in a technological era, we all have a mobile in our pocket everybody’s got their laptop in their suitcase. I don’t think it’s a weird thing, for me I was just trying to connect the two, I was interested in what it is use to live streaming. In terms of my exploration wanted to see how I could bring audiences into the performance.  What can I use, because there are different types of audience participation, some people don’t really like to get out of their seats, I don’t want to force people out of that, but I also want to try and see if I can give people a different perceptive, I’m pretty interested in my arts practice to see what that is.

Do you think that’s a tipping point with choreographic work and the form right now, and do you feel we will see more tech heavy work moving into the future? 

To be honest, I’m not sure I can’t really assume or speak for anyone else in terms of their artistic process but I’m very interested in trying to see what more I can do with it, mostly because I’ve never done it before. I want to see what it’s like to play around with the ever modern world but also attach it to my traditional roots.

Is it fair to say that you were trying to perhaps expose what traditional dance becomes when performed by someone else outside of that circle?

I wanted to push it toward the audience, I wanted to question them, I wanted to see what they knew was or what they thought was traditional dance, or what wasn’t. I feel like most people in the industry don’t really know that in traditional Torres Strait dancing there is technique and form and I wanted to question whether they knew that or not.

I feel like it’s an interesting thing do it, from it thankfully I had a lot of questions and conversations after the show, there were about four out of five people that I spoke to who never knew there was a Torres Strait flag, and that the design of the head mask was actually based on a Torres Strait head dress, and the easiest symbol to define that would be on the Torres Strait flag.

Those conversations are exactly what I wanted to provoke and it was great outcome, definitely pushing it to the audience.

So what’s next for you, has winning spurred you towards creation of new work at all?

I’m actually working with Force Majeure in a few weeks as a performer, what I try to do in terms of arts practice is I just try to learn as many things that I can from anywhere, and it hopefully help me tell whatever story I choose to when I do want to create something again. The KEIR awards have been pretty amazing, I actually can’t wait to get a new work started from this process.

(Photo Credit – Gregory Lorenzutti for Dancehouse)


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