by Georgia McKay
Image: Daniel Boud
World premiere of new First Nations cabaret by Rhoda Roberts
Sydney Opera House announced the world premiere of Natives Go Wild, a provocative new First Nations cabaret that flips the lid on historical fiction and celebrates the global voice of First Nations people.
Shaking up The Studiofrom 19 - 27 October 2019, this unmissable production interweaves sharp political satire and social commentary with edge-of-your-seat performances. It pays homage to the past and gives a humorous, dazzling, poignant and critical nod to the future in a theatrical whirlwind of burlesque, vaudeville, circus and cabaret-style entertainment.
Natives Go Wildbegins in 1883 on Hinchinbrook and Palm islands in Far North Queensland. Tambo is one of 17 Aboriginal men, women and children – including his wife – who were ‘recruited’ as star attractions in PT Barnum’s money spinner, The Ethnological Congress of Strange Tribes. Over time, more First Nations people were cast as ‘human oddities’ and performers, such as ‘The Aboriginal Cannibal Boomerang Throwers’ featured in Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth. In the later part of the 19th and early 20th centuries, a number of First Nations people changed their identity to escape the Aborigines Protection Board and were frequently billed in touring productions as Spanish, South American or ‘Wild Indian’. Acts included acrobat William Jones ‘Little Nugget’, ‘Wizard of the Wire’ tightrope walker Con Colleano and many more.
These largely unknown stories will come to life in a new cabaret, conceived and written by Sydney Opera House Head of First Nations Programming, Rhoda Roberts AO. Natives Go Wild is directed by Chelsea McGuffin (Company 2) with assistant director Mark Howett (The Secret River) also acting as set and lighting designer. Costumes are by Tim Chappel (Academy and BAFTA Award winner for The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert) and Musical Direction is by Damian Robinson (Wicked Beat Sound System).
The cast includes Mer Island dancer Waangenga Blanco; Ngati Haua entertainer Mika Haka; Mununjali circus artist Beau James; Niuean acrobat and aerial contortionist Josephine Mailisi; Tongan performance artist Seini F. Taumoepeau aka Sista Native; and Rotuman musician and performer Samuela Taukaveaka Skillz.
Sydney Opera House Head of First Nations Programming, Rhoda Roberts AO says: “Natives Go Wild honours First Nations performers from the early days, while revealing their hidden stories. Humour, song, wicked dance and old-age rituals are coupled with mesmerising aerial acts, creating the magic and illusion of the circus that will draw you in. But this theatre cabaret-style show also has a twist: the dark and disturbing nature of ‘human oddities’ exploitation. Re-examining the historical records and truth-telling offers more than light entertainment - their eyes, frozen in photographs from long ago, tell a different story.”
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.
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