Leonard Mickelo 1O6A4007Bangarra debuts its latest dance work, Blak, at Melbourne’s Arts Centre this May before heading out on an east coast tour with the production, which examines the unique struggles faced by young Indigenous males living in Australian cities.

Preparations for Blak, a collaboration between Bangarra’s artistic director Stephen Page and up-and-coming choreographer Daniel Riley McKinley, have included a cultural residency in Arnhem Land, NT, earlier this year.

“Going up to special places like Arnhem Land brings our dance back to a spiritual level. It gives us a taste of what culture’s like up there,” dancer Leonard Mickelo (pictured) told the Star Observer.

“We did lots of bonding with the community – they took us on excursions to waterholes and other sacred places. Every night we’d learn new traditional dances, one of which will be in [Blak].”

For Mickelo, the visit also awakened something of an interest in more ancient forms of dance.

“I always thought getting into hip hop dancing was something I wanted to do, but now I’m finding I enjoy traditional dances a lot more,” he said.

“Going up to Arnhem land grounds me as a person, and doing traditional dances is very therapeutic.”

Page and Riley McKinley didn’t have to look too far when exploring the themes present in Blak, of young Indigenous men making lives for themselves in urban Australia. Their inspiration was right in front of them, with the dancers of the company eager to share their own individual stories.

“[Blak] is about how we connect with our culture. What goes on to make us men. It’s difficult for us, because we live in an urban, western society, without having our own language and our own protocols and traditions around us.

“For young indigenous men living in the city, we kind of have to forge our own path to try and find out who we are as men.”

Last year was extremely busy for Bangarra, with 123 performances in 19 cities across Australia and around the world. Now, 2013 is shaping up to be equally hectic – members of the company have only just returned from a cultural exchange in the Vietnamese cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh.

Mickelo is a descendant of the Bidjara Nation, Kulalli Tribe, Guugatilu Tribe and the Juduwa Tribe from central Queensland, but his other bloodlines are Chinese Malaysian, Mongolian and Irish. He said the visit reaffirmed the kinship he feels with Asian cultures.

“I feel – especially with Asian countries – they have a strong respect for cultural customs and traditions. While we were there, we taught young dance students some of our contemporary and traditional dances, and they really loved it – there was an energy there that was very similar to ours.

“They understood that ours is an ancient culture that’s still living and breathing.”

INFO: Blak plays at Arts Centre, Melbourne, May 3-11, before further east coast dates. www.bangarra.com.au

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