6 January 2023

Ella weaves contemporary dance and Wiradjuri storytelling to share something new

| Chris Roe
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Ella Havelka is returning to Wagga to share her love of dance and Wiradjuri culture. Photo: Cybele Malinowski.

Wiradjuri woman Ella Havelka loves coming home to Wagga Wagga and sharing her love of dance with the next generation of regional performers and storytellers.

“Wagga means a meeting place for dancers, or for many dances, so I find it very synchronistic that my mum ended up relocating there, and now I do a lot of work there,” she says.

“It’s very fitting.”

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Originally from Dubbo, the classically trained dancer traces her family lines back to the Brungle Mission near Tumut and weaves traditional cultural storytelling into her contemporary performances and workshops.

Ella trained in Melbourne with the Australian Ballet School, danced with the Bangarra Dance Theatre and is the first recorded dancer of Aboriginal descent to join Australia’s elite national ballet company.

“There was a very big culture shift between the ballet world and what Bangarra do, but at the same time, they both have this professionalism about them,” she explains.

“It’s just a different approach to the storytelling and I always feel they are two very different worlds that you have to find a way to bring together.

“Ballet is steeped in European history, whereas Bangarra stories come from Australian First Nations and so many different places and cultures all coming together and colliding.

“It’s obviously full of contradictions, but I also felt as though there were a lot of similarities and had to find those similarities in order to make it what I wanted from my career.”

Dance class

Ella’s Art camp offers kids a taste of contemporary dance and Wiradjuri storytelling. Photo: Supplied.

Ella will return to Wagga next week to run contemporary dance workshops exploring Wiradjuri culture and storytelling through movement.

“I find dance is a very powerful way to do that,” she says.

“I’m using the technique and the styles that I’ve developed through the ballet world and the cultural storytelling that comes through my Wiradjuri bloodlines.”

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The workshops are open to kids aged 8 to 14 from all backgrounds and include rhythmic games using Wiradjuri language.

“It’s just a great way to educate and instil language that was lost and bring it back to front of mind,” she says.

“I think by building language into the dance and movement, it becomes embodied knowledge and becomes normalised.”

Dancer Ella Havelka

Wiradjuri Dancer Ella Havelka. Photo: Supplied.

Linda Elliott from the Wagga Art Gallery says last year’s workshops were a hit, and this year will integrate with the current First Nations art exhibition.

“It was really interesting seeing those students who might not have had an opportunity to have formal dance training get to have that little taster,” she says, “so it’s great to provide that opportunity and to embrace the exhibition that’s here that is about storytelling.”

Ella explains that participants will learn movement and perform a choreographed piece, as well as creating their own responses to the exhibition.

“It has three very important Wiradjuri stories that explore themes of identity, of listening to elders and listening to country, and about why the Wiradjuri nation has become a matriarchal society,” she explains.

“I’m going to use those three stories and ask the kids to go into the gallery and have a look around and then I’m going to ask them to respond and to create their own.

“It’s another way of instilling stories and knowledge by creating movement and dance around what they interpret. I want to see what they can create and what they can come up with.”

Art Camp – Dance with Ella Havelka runs from Tuesday (10 January) to Friday (13 January) at the Wagga Art Gallery. Learn more or book tickets here.

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