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Campbelltown Arts Centre creates a hub of dance for Sydney Festival 2021

Jasmin Sheppard's 'The Complications of Lyrebirds'. Photo by Samuel James.
Jasmin Sheppard's 'The Complications of Lyrebirds'. Photo by Samuel James.

Campbelltown Arts Centre (C-A-C) will present a powerful program of contemporary dance and art as part of Sydney Festival 2021. C-A-C has commissioned two world premiere dance works by renowned performers Jasmin Sheppard and Rhiannon Newton, along with a much-anticipated exhibition Space YZ. Together, the three projects promise a dynamic hub of art and culture this summer, welcoming back artists and audiences to C-A-C and providing an electric start to the 2021 program. 

Running 20 – 23 January 2021, The Complication of Lyrebirds  is a contemporary dance work designed to break away from the social expectations of what it means to look or sound Aboriginal. Created by lead artist  Jasmin  Sheppard, the work draws on her own experience and her family roots to look at questions surrounding Aboriginal identity through the story of the lyrebird. 

The lyrebird adopts the calls of other birds in order to appear attractive and find a mate. However, there is an authentic identity to the bird that is no mimic. Sheppard compares this to the way Indigenous people often face external pressures to prove their ‘blackness’, or to adopt different ways of talking and appearing. Sheppard proposes that if your family was denied their culture by the impact of colonisation, then what really makes you Aboriginal? The Complication of Lyrebirds investigates societal and cultural sources of expectations and pressures, and references the artist’s own lived experience. Sheppard also re-contextualises historical documents, such as ‘The White Australia Policy’ and ‘The Exemption Form’, as choreographic tools in the work. 

Sheppard says, “There’s a strong pressure placed on First Nations people to constantly prove ‘how Aboriginal’ we are. From the colour of our skin, to that ever-common cringe-worthy question ‘So what percentage are you?’, to how much cultural knowledge we may or may not have had passed onto us. This demand to prove Aboriginality entirely discounts the many different ways colonisation has devastated many within our community. The work asks us to acknowledge that all First Nations people have unique journeys and histories. It’s time to put these questions back where they came from and not upon ourselves.”

Rhiannon Newton's 'Explicit Contents'. Photo by Rafaela Pandolfini.
Rhiannon Newton’s ‘Explicit Contents’.
Photo by Rafaela Pandolfini.

Running 6 – 9 January 2021, Explicit Contents is a new dance work from acclaimed Sydney-based choreographer Rhiannon Newton.Commissioned by C-A-C, the work presents an evocative journey through the body’s entanglement with the environment. Reimagining bodies as watery vessels, techno-chemical conglomerates and thermo-dynamic machines, it asks what impacts humans are having on their environment. 

Describing visceral transactions between humans and their worlds, Explicit Contents tells hyper-real stories about the contents of two bodies as they are made and remade by the forces of their surroundings. Burning and cooling, hungering and satiating, incorporating and expelling, the body becomes an explicit site of action and exchange.  

Newton says, “I want audiences to feel, in a bodily kind of way, how we are part of the environment and how the environment continues inside us. I almost imagine we share a nervous system, so that when a droplet of water lands on the dancer’s skin, the whole theatre is saturated with the sensation of that moment of contact. Hopefully, when they leave the theatre, the body feels more viscerally connected to the world around them.”

Completing the gallery’s summer program is Space YZ, which runs 7 January to 14 March 2021. A diverse but timely visual art exhibition, it looks to the past to consider the present. In times of alarmingly diminishing art school options in the tertiary and higher education systems, the exhibition draws inspiration from the visual arts legacy of Western Sydney University (formerly known as University of Western Sydney). From the first graduating class in 1986, to the final cohort as the curtain closed in 2009, the art school was a pioneering hub for experimentation and risk-taking across a variety of media. 

Staged 12 years since the closure of the art school, Space YZ presents significant early works created by 88 visual arts and electronic arts alumni during their undergraduate studies or within two years of graduation. The exhibition title references the university gallery established on campus in 1992. Less a destination than an idling walkway, Space YZ speaks to the metaphors of transition and connection that unfold at art school, where ideologies are challenged and unique artistic identities forged.

The exhibition includes early work by a list of esteemed artists, including Brook Andrew, Liam Benson, Raquel Ormella, Savanhdary Vongpoothorn and Justene Williams, among many others. Space YZ celebrates the vibrant artistic practices that have flourished from this important institution, while advocating for better access to art school education in Western Sydney and across Australia.

Curator Daniel Mudie Cunningham says, “Space YZ is a time capsule that reinserts a potentially forgotten narrative into an art history of the recent past. It is a timely and urgent reminder of the vital role art schools play in the formation of our cultural landscape and what can be achieved, individually and collectively. Against the backdrop of the current moment, this project is a pressing reminder of the importance of, not just of art schools, but the entire humanities. By taking stock of what was achieved during a compressed period in Western Sydney, Space YZ emphasises what we must fight to retain and protect in the present.” 

C-A-C Director Michael Dagostino says,“This summer, Campbelltown Arts Centre offers a unique experience for all audiences to engage in the rich arts and culture of Western Sydney across a variety of art forms. Creating new work and opportunities for artists is always our main focus, and we’re excited to present two dance works from two of Australia’s leading dancers and choreographers, Jasmin Sheppard and Rhiannon Newton. Space YZ presents the opportunity to think of art schools differently, an art school which is not bound by traditional frameworks and is open to all. Western Sydney has been the starting point for many artists who have greatly influenced the arts in Australia, and this exhibition amplifies the importance of accessible arts education for all.”

For more information, visit www.sydneyfestival.org.au

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