Dance Rites Online in 2020

Dance Rites, Dunghutti. Photo by BKE Photography

$32,000 Competition and a Celebration of First Nations Dance

Watch Heats via the Sydney Opera House Digital Channels Nov 11-14 & Finals Nov 21

The Sydney Opera House will present its sixth annual Dance Rites festival online next month, bringing together 28 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dance groups in a celebratory digital event with more than 350 performers spanning generations, nations and clan groups.

Dance Rites, Brolga. Photo Barbara MCGrady

Australia’s annual First Nations dance competition seeks to revitalise vanishing cultural practices and showcase the richness and diversity of First Nations culture. It will be broadcast on the Opera House’s digital channels over four consecutive nights from Wednesday 11 – Saturday 14 November, coinciding with NAIDOC Week. The finals, in partnership with NITV, will air on Saturday 21 November.

Sydney Opera House Head of First Nations Programming Rhoda Roberts AO said, “While Dance Rites is coming to you a little differently this year, it has never felt more like a community event. It’s incredible to see groups from every corner of the country rising to the challenge of an online competition and submitting outstanding performances that tell stories of community, connection to land and overcoming adversity. About 1500 dancers have participated since the festival began in 2015 – and the enthusiasm this year is no exception. We’ve also seen an increase in registrations from groups in remote communities, with many acknowledging the deep cultural significance of performing their dances and songlines on country.”

Dance Rites 2020 will include performances from:

●  Djakapurra Dancers led by Djakapurra Munyarryun, often described as Bangarra’s spirit man and the Songman for the Sydney 2000 Olympics Games;
●  Mornington Island Dance Group, who performed for the opening of the Opera House in 1973;
●  The all-female Dyiraamalang (Wiradjuri for ‘leader’) who came together to reclaim their dance practice and share it with their community; and
●  Luurnpa Dancers led by prominent artist and senior law man Jimmy Tchooga.

Dance Rites, Wajaarr Ngaarlu. BKE Photography

The broadcast will include two filmed dances from each group: a traditional dance (either a welcome or a farewell) and a ‘wildcard’ dance that may fuse contemporary dance and music with tradition. Groups will be assessed on authenticity, reclamation work, use of costumes and revitalised crafts and cultural materials, along with fusion of language and music.

The winning group will receive $20,000, one runner-up will receive $5,000, and $3,000 will go to the highest-scoring ‘wildcard’ dance. The $4,000 Rite of Passage Award acknowledges one group’s outstanding contribution to revitalising cultural knowledge and practices.

NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the Arts Don Harwin said, “Though we cannot be together on the Forecourt to celebrate Dance Rites this year, I’m delighted that the Opera House is able to present this significant event online, sharing First Nations cultural heritage on a global stage and enabling communities across the nation to join in this vital cultural exchange.”

This year’s competition will be judged by Daniel Riley, Katina Olsen, Luke Currie-Richardson and Kirk Page.

Katina Olsen, Daniel Riley, Luke Currie-Richardson & Kirk Page

Daniel Riley is a choreographer, dancer, teacher and producer from the Wiradjuri nation of Western NSW who is a former principal dancer with Bangarra and producer with ILBIJERRI. Katina Olsen is a choreographer who has worked throughout Australia, Canada, UK, USA and Europe with the likes of Bangarra, Sydney Dance Company and Wesley Enoch, hailing from Wakka Wakka and Kombumerri nations.  Luke Currie-Richardson is a descendant of the Kuku Yalanji and Djabugay peoples, the Munaldjali Clan of South East Queensland and the Meriam people of the Eastern Torres Strait Islands, who studied dance at NAISDA and the Queensland University of Technology, and has danced with Bangarra. And Kirk Page is Mulanjali man born on unceded country in Tulmur QLD with lineage connected to South East Queensland the Torres Strait Islands and Germany who is a choreographer, dancer and physical theatre practitioner who has worked with Legs on The Wall, the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony, Bangarra and Force Majeure.

Heats: 8pm, Wednesday 11 – Saturday 14 November
Finals: 7.30pm, Saturday 21 November

Free to watch live online and available on demand at


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