"I was never a strong ballerina and I remember walking in there in absolute disbelief that I was going to be working with The Australian Ballet."
Deborah Brown

1. Bush, 2003

Deborah Brown and Sani Townson in 'Moth', Photography Danielle Lyonne , 2003

They held national auditions at Bangarra at the end of 2002 and I thought I'd go along. I hadn’t danced, not really, for seven years.

It was a big challenge, having not worked in a dance company before, having not trained at a tertiary level, to then have this responsibility in your first year, to be doing a duet (a pas de deux called ‘Moth’ with my nephew Sani Townson). I just accepted it, but in hindsight that was quite a responsibility.

Bush had a lot at stake for the company, emotionally, physically and psychologically. It was a time of transition. I felt as though we had a huge responsibility. There were six new dancers, half the company was new, and I think everyone was mindful of Russell’s passing.

It was a new world for me. Most of my training was commercial dance – "You've got to be happy" or "you've got to be fierce"; they were very simplified emotions.

But when we all came together at the very end of Bush, I had never felt anything like that before. I never thought that you could go through that depth of emotion every night and access that psychology as a dancer. Bush is the piece that unlocked that understanding for me.

Full Ensemble in 'Clan' from 'Bush', Photography Danielle Lyonne, 2003

The first time I got to work in a collaboration with Bangarra and The Australian Ballet was when we remounted Rites. I was never a strong ballerina and I remember walking in there in absolute disbelief that I was going to be working with the Ballet.

I have made some really good friendships with those ballerinas and they are some of the warmest, the funniest, quirkiest, most humble dancers I know. Coming back to do Warumuk — in the dark night, I was excited. You've got Bangarra as your immediate family, and the Ballet are like your cousins. We get a little bit naughty with each other, we just have a lot of fun, we have a lot of giggles.

Warumuk takes the journey of the night sky. We began with the 'Evening Star', which was Viv Wong. I totally have a dancer crush on her, she's just so beautiful I could watch her read the telephone book. And then it finished with the 'Morning Star', which was me and all the men, which also I quite liked!

But I think what I loved most about Warumuk was David's music, particularly Morning Star. I remember David really shifted as a composer that year, to my ear anyway. It just sounded so cinematic. There was something about what David wrote that I could listen to over and over again.

Deborah Brown and Brett Simon (right), Warumuk rehearsals, Photography Lynette Wills, 2012
Deborah Brown and the Morning Star Barnumbirr ensemble, Photography Greg Barrett, 2012

3. I.B.I.S, 2015

I was anxious about opening I.B.I.S. It was unlike any other show. A lot more kitsch, more musical-like. That's my vocabulary and background. That's the flavour of the Torres Strait too. It's colourful, it's floral, it’s full of laughter. Waangenga and I are really humorous people. We wouldn't have been able to do it if we denied that. There is no way that we could have put on something that was serious and self-reflective.

I.B.I.S is a story about a chain of corner shops that are in the Torres Strait Islands. Not all the islands have one, but most do. The thing that we noticed both on Thursday Island and on Mer Island was the sense of community. People would hang out at the shops, do banking there, and store things for big feastings.

People approached me afterwards to say "watching your piece made me really homesick". They weren't Torres Strait Islanders but they got the sense of joy and community, which is exactly what Waangenga and I were trying to get through. We wanted people to walk away forgetting any problems that they had, laughing and crying and just elated.

I.B.I.S. full ensemble in Tup Tup song, Photography Edward Mulvihill, 2015
I.B.I.S Lore Deborah Brown And Waangenga Photo Lisa Tomasetti
"I.B.I.S was my first main stage choreography. I would love to do more of it but I have never felt a fear like that before."
Deborah Brown

Interview with Deborah Brown
Article by Maura Edmond