Dream­time be­comes re­al­ity in Top End

The Dar­win Fes­ti­val unites its home city like few oth­ers do, writes Noel Men­gel

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - FESTIVAL DARWIN -

EV­ERY year the North­ern Ter­ri­tory at­tracts tourists from Aus­tralia and abroad look­ing for an au­then­tic Aus­tralian ex­pe­ri­ence, some­thing that puts them in touch with the land and its in­dige­nous cul­tures.

Au­gust is the per­fect time to do it, when the weather is warm and pre­dictably fine. But it’s also a time to add value to an NT hol­i­day through the Dar­win Fes­ti­val, an 18-day cel­e­bra­tion that ranges from out­door con­certs to the­atre, dance, mu­sic, com­edy, cabaret, vis­ual art and a cel­e­bra­tion of Dar­win’s food scene.

Many of the events are free and set un­der Dar­win’s beau­ti­ful – and, at this time of year, cloud­less – night skies in a range of out­door venues, in­clud­ing the fes­ti­val hub in Civic Park.

Dar­win is a unique Aus­tralian city, with its strong con­nec­tions to Asia, its proud tra­di­tion of wel­com­ing im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties – from the strong Chi­nese con­nec­tion through to more re­cent ar­rivals from Ti­mor and Africa – and, of course, in­dige­nous cul­ture through mu­sic, dance and art.

And this is one arts fes­ti­val con­nected to its com­mu­nity. It’s a time of year when Dar­win res­i­dents wouldn’t dream of tak­ing a hol­i­day any­where else: about three-quar­ters of the pop­u­la­tion at­tend fes­ti­val events.

Part of the fes­ti­val brief is to re­flect that rich di­ver­sity, be­gin­ning with a free con­cert on Au­gust 12 in the beau­ti­ful trop­i­cal sur­rounds of the Botanic Gar­dens Am­phithe­atre. Per­form­ers in­clude Emma Dono­van and Lib­erty Songs, which fea­tures Shel­lie Mor­ris, Leah Flana­gan and Lou Ben­nett with mem­bers of Dar­win’s Liberian com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing the African Gospel choir.

Among the the­atri­cal at­trac­tions are Wrong Skin, a per­for­mance fea­tur­ing The Chooky Dancers from El­cho Is­land in Arn­hem Land, which is also the home of NT’s hottest mu­sic ex­port, Ge­of­frey Gur­ru­mul Yunupingu. Wrong Skin is a story of for­bid­den love and clan loy­al­ties, ex­plor­ing what hap­pens in a re­mote Arn­hem Land com­mu­nity where laws of skin and clan de­fine re­la­tion­ships.

But, like ev­ery­one else, in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties love new technology, and Wrong Skin fuses tra­di­tional dance with Chooky disco danc­ing and footage shot on mo­bile phones. ( Au­gust 27-28, Play­house, Dar­win En­ter­tain­ment Cen­tre.)

Also mesh­ing the an­cient and mod­ern is Goose La­goon, di­rected by for­mer Ban­garra Dance The­atre per­former Gary Lang, which melds tra­di­tional and con­tem­po­rary styles with pup­petry to give a fresh per­spec­tive on Dream­time sto­ries. The orig­i­nal score uses tra­di­tional songs as well as mag­pie geese, recorded in the Mara­makala wet­lands of Arn­hem Land. ( Au­gust 13-15, Play­house.)

Con­tem­po­rary mu­sic also has a cen­tral role in the fes­ti­val, and this year per­form­ers in­clude The Cat Em­pire, John But­ler Trio, East Ti­morese song­writer Ego Le­mos and Tex Perkins’ smash-hit Johnny Cash stage show, The Man In Black, as well as late-night shows at Dar­win’s funky lit­tle in­die club the Happy Yess.

But the real mu­si­cal high­light is the an­nual In­dige­nous Mu­sic Awards, which shine a light on the stun­ning di­ver­sity of the Top End’s mu­sic scene. While Gur­ru­mul has spread the word about NT mu­sic to a new au­di­ence in Europe and the US, there are many more per­form­ers stretched from the deserts of Alice Springs to the is­lands of the north.

Per­form­ers at the In­dige­nous Mu­sic Awards this year ( Au­gust 28, Botanic Gar­dens Am­phithe­atre) in­clude the hotly tipped Salt­wa­ter Band, fea­tur­ing Gur­ru­mul, and an­other act who are leg­ends in NT, the Table­land Drifters.

FINE ART: Ev­ery Au­gust Dar­win comes to­gether for an ex­plo­sion of artis­tic tal­ent, the Dar­win Fes­ti­val.

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