Ash Dargan, a leading didgeridoo musician, never learned of his Aboriginal roots until the age of 22.
Adopted as a child, Dargan says, "I was raised on Australia's East Coast, in Queensland. I grew up there, not knowing about my past. The government wouldn't allow adopted children to get information about their parents. I didn't know I was part Aborigine."
But when that law changed, Dargan headed for North Australia, the ancestral homeland of the Larrakia Nation. He was able to reunite with his birth relatives, and they gave him more than the gift of a second family: His newfound grandmother and great-uncle introduced him to the didgeridoo, the "cultural instrument" of his people.
"I fell in love with it," says Dargan, who had trained on the trumpet since the age of 8. "I've been playing it now for 12 years."
This weekend, Dargan, for the first time, combines his didgeridoo music with modern dance, in a collaborative concert at Stevie Eller Dance Theatre with Tucson's O-T-O Dance. Native Australians never developed a skin drum, he says, thus the didgeridoo is the percussive instrument for Aboriginal traditional dance. Paired with the more deliberate movements of modern dance, Dargan says, "It's going to be great!"
The Aussie came to the United States to compose music for a play in Boulder, Colo., and when he ducked over to a Native American flute festival in New Mexico last summer, he met up with O-T-O's Annie Bunker and Chuck Koesters. The three tossed around ideas for a didgeridoo dance, but it was not until four weeks later, when Bunker had a portentous dream, that the deal was sealed.
"In the dream, I was walking out the back door" (of the Sonoran Desert home she shares with her husband, Koesters), Bunker relates. "A rattlesnake was curled there. It started morphing into another shape. I called Chuck."
In the dream, Koesters--as well as a dream Dargan--began running toward her. By the time all three converged, the snake had transformed itself into a lizard. "We looked at it, each other and the sky."
When Bunkers woke up, Dargan happened to call by phone, and he told her that it was the lizard of Aboriginal dreamtime.
"We had met in dreamtime," Bunkers says, "and we decided to do the piece."
Dargan will play his didgeridoo live during the six-part dance, tentatively titled "From Water to Air." His videos of the Australian landscape will serve as a moving backdrop for the 15 dancers on stage and in the air.
Bunker's choreography has both floor work and trapeze, including fragments from a trapeze work-in-progress that O-T-O's six apprentices performed at a January show. The inspirational lizard appears in one section, called appropriately enough, "Lizard of the Dreaming," but much of the dance's imagery comes from the landscape. It moves from still water to earth rocks to fast water to lighting, cloud and sky, Bunker says.
The 30-minute premiere will be the finale of a concert filled with live music, including Native American flute and Japanese drums. Evren Ozan, a young American Indian flutist whom Bunker and Koesters also met at the festival, will play again for "Traveler," a lyrical collaborative work the company debuted in November. Also choreographed by Bunker, that 12-minute dance, a celebration of human-horse love, combines dance on the floor and a backdrop of Koester videos.
Karen Falkenstrom and Rome Hamner, the local Japanese drumming duo otherwise known as Odaiko Sonora, play the Taiko drums for another Bunker premiere, "Crossing Over."
"I do an aerial solo with the flying box," Bunker reports. "I'm a person going through death. The other four characters are the specters of death." O-T-Oers Amy Barr, Batyah Morales Freedman, Lindsay Spilker and Nicole Stansbury join Bunker for the six-minute dance of opposites, an exploration of "white/black, slow/fast, yin-yang, tension/release."
Stansbury also showcases two pieces of her own choreography, a duet that debuted in the January O-T-O show, and "Grey Matter," a quintet about relationships danced to the soundscore from the movie The Royal Tannenbaums.
In "Semaphore," local poets Charles Alexander and Falkenstrom will continue the humorous verbal jousting they started at the January concert, and Bunker will once again slither on the floor between the dueling poets, bag on her head. In keeping with the spirit of the season--and the Irish Riverdancers high-stepping at Centennial Hall at the other end of campus--guest choreographer Thom Lewis of FUNHOUSE movement theater stages his comic dance, "Closet Irish."
"I saw it in a FUNHOUSE show several years ago and I really liked it," Bunker says. "I hadn't thought about it being near St. Patrick's Day."
O-T-O's Katie Rutterer, Lindsay Compitello, Freedman and Stansbury put on the green and leap lightly on a set suited up as an Irish bar.