Review: The Blood Line Continues

Blood Quantum blends the arts of dance, narrative storytelling and projected images to relay the hard truths about the Stolen Generations, writes Angelina Hurley. Blak Critics is a YIRRAMBOI initiative giving voice to First Nations writers and critics.

Blood Quantum, developed over two years as part of the Indigenous Choreographers Residency at Arts House Melbourne, is a beautiful collaboration between Professor Tracey Bunda and her daughter Ngioka Bunda-Heath.

These Wakka, Ngugi, and Biripi women blend the arts of dance, narrative storytelling and projected images to relay the hard truths about their family’s history, so brutally affected by the Stolen Generations.

Dancer and choreographer Ngioka, a graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts who trained with Bangarra Dance Company’s Youth Program and currently dances with DubaiKungkaMiyalk (DKM), joined the stage offering a pot of tea to Aunty Tracey. The older woman smiled happily in her chair, finishing her weaving. A beautiful original landscape painting depicting black footsteps sat to one side, with that image projected across the stage.

To introduce the show, Aunty Tracey rose and approached a lectern where she provided the amazing narrative of her academic research, which has influenced her daughter’s work. With an Elder’s grace, she acknowledged the traditional owners of the Kulin Nation, as a visitor on country, and kindly offered an ear and comfort to anyone who may need a debrief after experiencing the harsh information about to be relayed.

Telling stories of the Stolen Generations as passed down to her time and time again by her family, she educated the audience about the atrocious Queensland Government’s dissemination and assimilation policies. There was a re-education, too, around the use of offensive terminology from census statistics and classifications of blood quantum percentages for First Peoples, stating that, ‘there were no Aboriginal people before colonisation; there were nations of people and they were named as such, i.e. by their First Nations names.’

I grinned gleefully at her very Murri descriptive observation of how ‘corked up’ the colonisers were in their lack of understanding.

Ngioka entered the stage to the very soft sound of rolling ocean waves, a slideshow of nostalgic family photos projected on the backdrop throughout. She proceeded to offer her own interpretation of this story through dance and the narration of the next generation, a more youthful expression of the effects of historical and continuing Indigenous circumstance.

Her contemporary choreography, reflecting family tales, married soft movement with angry stomps and body thrashes, protesting the horrific recollections relating to the Stolen Generations story. The symbolic movement of applying ochre to her skin reaffirmed identity and bloodline, while stepping into a spotlight to narrate memories of her late grandmother made the audience teary.

Aunty Tracey sat back in her chair viewing the entire performance like the Elder, professor, mother and teacher she is, with proud and pleased nods of approval throughout, occasionally stern. Blood Quantum ended beautifully, with the final collaboration of oral storytelling from the mother accompanied by dance from the daughter, against a projected image of the family matriarch, Ngioka’s grandmother.

It was so amazing and reassuring to see this connection and to know that maintenance of culture and storytelling is still being passed on. The sound of rolling ocean waves returned, providing the perfect ending. Offering a moment of reflection, their shared performance showed that, regardless of the impact of historical brutalities inflicted upon First Nations peoples, this story crossing three generations of strong Blak women reinforces an identity and cultural connection impossible to be defined or diluted by any form of blood quantum classification.

Blood Quantum premiered at YIRRAMBOI Festival 2019 at WXYZ Studios. Blood Quantum is a YIRRAMBOI KIN Commission, and was supported by City of Melbourne through YIRRAMBOI Festival and the Arts Grants Program, the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria, and Lucy Guerin Inc. The development was supported by The Wilin Centre at Victorian College of the Arts, Dancehouse and Brunswick Mechanics Institute.

Image: Ngioka Bunda-Heath by Jalaru Photography