Choreographer's note by Elma Kris: About from Belong

It’s like I’m painting and it is like that journey where you’re not sure what’s coming next.

The title of my new work About expresses my curiosity of the four winds (Gub) that make up the seasons we have in the Torres Strait Islands: Zey, Kuki, Naygay and Sager. I looked at the influence they have on the land, sea and sky. I want to share my connection with my culture and pass it on to future generations, both Torres Strait Islanders and all Australians alike.

I have always admired how my parents talk about the winds, which are a daily part of our islander life. The winds move and shape themselves in a magical and mysterious way. They paint colour in the day, the sky, and the seas.

They are like spirits swiftly passing by, and merging with nature; they guide and nurture day-to-day life. I wanted to take a journey with them, travel with their moods and see how I could bring them to life through dance.

As the work took shape, it always sent me somewhere new. I felt it could be sometimes calm, aggressive, subtle or swift. I drew on my traditional dance knowledge to reform some contemporary island dance movements that express how I felt as I looked into these winds. Each wind also has a colour that represents how I see them. I wanted this piece to use all the senses.

Zey is like a cool breeze; it is the ‘south wind’. To me I felt it had a female energy and so I use a female dancer to act as a metaphor for this ‘cool wind’. Zey lures your body to the motion of that breeze and it captures you. I match Zey with the colour blue to showcase the fluid and cool character of this wind.

Kuki is the time of tropical storms and rough seas, it is the ‘northwest’ wind. Kuki has an energy that comes with a force. To me, I see Kuki as having a male energy. In early development I struggled with the balance of the male and female dancers. It was confusing, just like the turbulent Kuki wind. It was like it was taking me for a rough ride, like Kuki’s destructive winds. I could not grasp what exactly this was. The wind patterns inspired my choreographic direction, such as creating the many levels of movement, just like wind changes in Kuki. I’ve given this wind a charcoal black colour to represent the cloud changes. The headdress is inspired by the elaborate ‘dance machines’ (apparatus) used in the Torres Strait and represents the lightning that comes with Kuki.

Naygay is the calmest, most gentle wind; the ‘northwind’. I use silver to represent the calmness and reflect the glistening of the sun off the dead calm sea. I begin this piece with a warm glow of light, which sets a new day. I coupled the dancers in this piece to represent the new day as well. I also use a language chant to help us herald in the new day. The couples layer their movement of energy on top of each other and they create little whirly winds, that form patterns by shooting out into rays of directions, eventually shaping towards building a wall of stillness, that represents the dead calm sea.

Sager is the dominant wind; it’s the gusty southeast. We used this wind in the Torres Strait to know when to go hunting or pearl diving. In this piece I wanted to bring a character along the journey of the wind and have them travel together side-by-side, experiencing the elements of the wind and being one together. The dancers’ movements visualise the movements of the dust, sand and wind. I chose a chalky white as the colour for Sager to match the dust that the wind picks up when it blows.

Looking into these elements they create an atmosphere: they morph as they move in different directions and in different ways. These elements are so important to me, where we have language to describe their character and show a sense of feeling. I can feel, when a wind is blowing strongly; I feel another energy is present when the environment is so quiet, so calm, and it shows colours in the sky, sea and land.

I invited Peggy Misi to be my cultural advisor on this work. She helped with the use of Kala Lagaw Ya language in the piece, and we also used Torres Strait Kriol, which I speak. The use of language to describe the characters of the winds, brings it all to life and adds colour, depth and movement. It was so lovely to work with Peggy again at Bangarra and I thank her for all her wonderful help.

I acknowledge Bangarra Dance Theatre, especially Stephen Page for allowing me to create my second work. As a Torres Strait Islander woman, I am very excited to once again bring a new story from the Torres Strait Islands to you that has inspired me. This is a new journey; it’s more contemporary than my other choreography. It’s like I’m painting and it is like that journey where you’re not sure what’s coming next. You create your own emotions as you sit, watch and experience the performance. I hope everybody will enjoy the journey and travel with it as I did.

Elma Kris
Dance Artist and Choreographer