Australian theatre-person and actor Trevor Jamieson on finding parallels between Indian and Aboriginal cultures, with an aim to create a dance performance drawn from the similarities.
Trevor Jamieson could well pass off for a native, with his swarthy features, his wild and bushy grey beard, and summer casual attire of a vest and harem pants, with a ratty pair of flipflops, to complement the look. Until you hear that distinct Australian twang, that is. “When I’m out on the road here in the city, people automatically think I’m Indian. They talk to me in Tamil/Malayalam and they’re quite taken aback when I respond in English,” says the actor, with a guffaw.
The very unassuming Trevor or Trev—as he is called—is actually Australian theatre royalty, a prominent indigenous playwright, and actor, who has performed on stages the world over in front of kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers. He is also a well-known screen actor, contemporary dancer, didgeridoo artist and is a torch-bearer of Aboriginal music, dance, theatre, and storytelling traditions.
In fact, Trev, along with fellow members of the Ochre Dance Company of Subaico, Western Australia, is on a three-week cultural exchange at the Daksha Sheth Dance Company in Vellayani on the outskirts of the city “to observe the parallels between indigenous Indian and Aboriginal cultures, correlate them and turn that into a contemporary fusion dance performance that highlights what’s common between the two.” Ochre’s trip to Kerala is in reciprocation of the visit of actor-dancer Isha Sharvani and percussionist-musician Tao Issaro of the Daksha Sheth Dance Company out to the Nullabor Plain to immerse themselves in Aboriginal culture, last year.
“Geographically, we might breathe a different rhythm because of the weather but the more we discover about Kerala, the more we realize that we are not all that different. For instance, the sand art tradition here [Kalamezhuthu]. We have something similar back home. In the old days, much before indigenous art was painted on canvas, Aboriginal people would draw sacred designs on the soil. The Aborigines are also very spiritual and worship nature in its myriad forms and have nature gods—though not as many as there are here! Much like in Indian culture, we use dance to tell our stories. Our dance, similar to Kalaripayattu, is very grounding and very body intensive; they also involve a lot of stamping and stomping, squatting, jumping and…,” he says, breaking off as a curious mix of contemporary beats, traditional Indian and Aboriginal music, the didgeridoo and voices shouting out strange words boom out of the dance studio abutting the Vellayani lake.
“We are trying to pepper the language of our tribe, the Nyungar, within the fusion dance performance. The Nyungar have words for jumping, sitting down, putting your leg up and so on and with each movement, the performers will shout out the corresponding word,” explains the 42-year-old artist.
Trev and Co. were supposed to have performed at the inaugural ceremony of IFFK 2017. With the show being canceled in light of Cyclone Ockhi, now, he’ll be talking about his films in the In Conversation section of the film festival. “I’m first and foremost a theatre actor and dancer, ever since I debuted on stage at age 17, playing the lead in the aboriginal musical, Bran Nue Dae (1993). My auntie, Lynette Markle, herself a theatre-person, convinced me to become an actor; otherwise, I would have been an Australian Rules Football player! That said, acting on screen, is something I do only when I have the time. I don’t like being idle. When I’m at home on the Nullabor, I’m a laborer; I like to keep my hands busy,” he explains, while happily striking poses—the eagle pose, the spirit pose, the bush turkey in flight and so on, inspired by Aboriginal legends, at our photographer’s request. “I’m very photogenic; why do you think I took up acting on screen?” he says, with a laugh, proceeding to recount corresponding fantastic “creation stories” of how the Australian landscape and fauna and flora came to be; of jealous snakes who stole poison glands from iguanas and the bush turkey that brought fire to the land and the dingo that stole it for the people up north, of the making of mountains and lakes and underground rivers… “The Aborigines have stories for everything; hidden in them is age-old traditional wisdom that allows one to survive in the hostile terrain of the Australian bush,” he explains. We’re enchanted.
On December 10, at 2 pm at Nila Theatre Trevor had a conversation with IFFK’s artistic director Bina Paul. He talked about his many films and TV series such as Rabbit Proof Fence, Lockie Leonard, Boys in the Trees and the upcoming film Storm Boys, many of which highlight the life and struggles of Aborigines.
Fusion of styles
The fusion stage production, titled Kwogkan (meaning sand in Nyungar Aboriginal dialect) is being funded by Australia Council for the Arts. “One of the first commonalities that we came across here in Kerala was sand art and hence we named it sand. The plan is to engage with First Nations in the Indian Ocean region and find a form for a performance that came out of the exchanges. The first step in the project was Isha and Tao’s visit out to Trev’s place in Tjuntjuntjara in Western Australia,” explains Ochre’s artistic director Mark Howett. They are planning to première the production in Perth in 2019, and hope to stage the performance here in the city as well.
This post originally appeared in The Hindu on December 7, 2017, and has been reposted with permission.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.