Yarning at APAM – Kerri-Lee Harding

Blak Critic Kerri-Lee Harding shares highlights of First Nations culture on the eve of the first day of this year’s Australian Performing Arts Market.

It’s a beautiful Melbourne day as I find myself on a flight to Brisbane to spend the week ahead at the Australian Performing Arts Market (APAM).

I’m excited for my first APAM experience and a jam-packed week surrounded by like-minded creatives ready to yarn about what’s new across Australia. Meeting artists and producers, I’m looking forward to absorbing the latest movements in Aboriginal performing arts.


The dictionary meaning of misconceive is to fail to understand something correctly. Thomas ES Kelly’s show [MIS]CONCEIVE, presented by KARUL PROJECTS, wraps that idea into a stunning dance movement. Kelly is joined on stage by his impressive ensemble, three strong, deadly talented women: Taree Sainsbury, Caleena Sainsbury and Natalie Pelarek.
The company proudly present their unique take on contemporary blak style. Movement and rhythm comes naturally to this mob and the dancers own the stage with impeccable timing. Their moves are tight; occasionally one breaks loose in a freestyle way that compliments their fellow dancers.
Wearing grey hoodies, simple lighting keeps the focus on them as they interrogate the impact of colonisation and the chaos it unleashed, and through their moves, the stark reality of contemporary aboriginal life gives way to hope of life without oppression and underlying racism.
A high-energy show with a fast pace, it constantly challenges the misconceptions surrounding the Aboriginal urban identity today. The dancers’ moves smash negative assumptions about what its like to be an Aboriginal person. The musical score fuses contemporary electronic beats with traditional ones, accompanied by Aboriginal language. The dancers take to it like a blak duck gliding on a sacred water hole. The dance moves were sharp and realistic, the choreography precise all doing their best to mix contemporary moves with tradition.
Well-received by audiences in Melbourne at the 2016 Next Wave festival and Sydney’s Afterglow, they’ve also impressed with their deadly talent overseas at the Living Ritual festival in Toronto, Canada, in 2017. What I loved about this piece of work, overall it made me feel proud to watch these young ones own the stage with such creative force yet at the same time it made me feel some sadness in a way, knowing we still continue to fight the same struggles, issues and challenges about identity and race in Australia.


Part of YIRRAMBOI’s series of post-show yarning circles hosted at APAM, Canadian Judy Harquail worked closely with creative director Jacob Boehme to bring Dhumba Wiiny (Fire Talk) to the 2017 YIRRAMBOI First Nations Arts Festival in Melbourne.
Harquail introduced this inaugural Fire Talk at APAM 2018 to a mostly APAM presenter delegates, explaining in simple terms that we will be asked five questions designed to help us unpack the show [MIS]CONCIEVE.
A reflective experience it offers participants the opportunity to yarn beyond, “I loved the show,” or ‘’no, I didn’t like this experience,” set in a culturally safe space.
What I loved most was how different people shared their perspectives safe in the knowledge it is totally fine to agree or not, highlighting the many unique ways in which we all experience an artistic performance.
It is ever so reassuring to know there is no wrong or right answer and that at the end of the session, your contribution to the conversation in the yarning circle is respected and valid. Upon reflection, I feel like I walked away from this wanting more, inspired by what I had heard people share.


Late at night, post-show, I find Kelly unwinding by the banks of the river down at the Brisbane Powerhouse, which offers the perfect opportunity for me to ask some questions on my mind after catching [MIS]CONCEIVE. He agrees to sit down and have a yarn.
How did you feel about this evening show?

“The performance felt really good tonight and we had a show earlier today at 2pm too, and all my family came down from the Gold Coast to watch us perform that one. It was the first time they had seen me perform as a professional dancer.”
What was the vibe like before you hit the stage this evening?

“So we had this moment as the audience was coming into the theatre space and we were doing our chookas circle and we chatted and we all agreed to use that energy and that high from the previous performance to take us into this next show. And we came off stage feeling ecstatic, that tonight we got even stronger.”
How are you feeling about day one of the APAM experience?

“Well so far it’s all been really positive and we’ve got two more shows tomorrow.”
Where to next for [MIS]CONCIEVE?

“We’ve got a tour coming up in June to Lismore in NSW performing at NORPA (Northern Rivers Performing Arts venue) on 29th and 30th June 2018 at the Studio – Lismore City Hall.
What do you hope to express most through your dance?

“In all of my works, the essence is that it’s tackling stereotypes and looking at disregarding race, religion, culture, and me being personal with my own labels.”
What makes you proudest about [MIS]CONCIEVE?

“I wrote the script, composed the music and choreographed. I love dancing with my partner, her sister, and a close friend, and we are all a part of the company KARUL PROJECTS.”


IMAGE CREDIT: Zan Wimberley