Kikidi Cultural Camp 1995

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Elizabeth River, NT

Fire in its traditional East Timorese uses as well as the flame of youth burning into the future. July 28-30.
David McMicken was approached by members of the Lafaek East Timorese Cultural Association to work with some of their youth to create a fire dance. They had seen TRACKS Dance Collective performing a fire dance at Gathering Ground  a cross cultural dance performance in which the Lafaek dancers performed. David agreed to the work on condition that he had a cultural adviser working with him at all times. This role fell to José Casimiro. The dance was being created by and for the younger members of Lafaek. It was to be performed at their Fifth Annual Cross Cultural Camp, Kikidi, Elizabeth Valley. The weekend camp is organised by the East Timorese community with extended invitations to other cultural groups. It takes place on a property belonging to one of the East Timorese Elders in the Elizabeth River Valley. The Saturday evening is devoted to sharing performances from various cultural groups.

The use of fire has many connections with the East Timorese people. Although the flame may change in form, it is still a flame. The flame represents tradition, culture, knowledge, strength, and power. There is always a time where the energy of the younger people carries forward the wisdom of the older people. This way the culture survives, adapts, and remains contemporary and relevant. In traditional East Timorese culture fire is a very important element. It is used in rituals and daily life, and in these difficult times it has become a symbol of hope.

Many of the participants in this dance do not involve themselves in many other aspects of the club’s life and therefore this has provided a good opportunity, one in which the participants are enthused.

The initial aims of this project were;

  • To work with the East Timorese youth, particularly those who do not normally participate fully in the Association’s activities
  • To instill a distinctly East Timorese flavour to the work
  • To have a short rehearsal process which would instill beginning skills
  • To work in a contemporary mode
  • To workshop to gauge the interest and ideas of the group
  • To work with a target group of youths
  • To show the participants some of the processes involved in fire dancing: making fire torches, the safe use of materials, what affects the fire can do, choreography.

Director's Notes - David McMicken

Rehearsals for the fire dance took place at Lafaek clubrooms and surrounds. The first rehearsal was to introduce some baton twirling skills, fire torch actions, and discussion about where we might go from there.

In the discussion I suggested the use of a large fire sculpture. Suggestions for what this might be were a large “ET” for East Timor, a traditional house (Uma Lulik Wekeke), and a crocodile (which is very important to East Timorese people as a creation story, as well as being the symbol for Lafaek which means crocodile in Tetum). It was agreed that two rehearsals a week would take place. After the first rehearsal and in discussion with José the following ideas and rough possible scenario were put up for discussion.

The older people could carry the flame. This is in turn would be handed on to the younger people.

  • Begin with a traditional feel, maybe older people carrying flame in coconut shells. This would be accompanied by a traditional sound of drums. The strength is in the culture. The tradition lays the foundations. This is what we are fighting for.
  • Pass the flame onto group with spiralling batons. This intricate dance of flame shows a unity and a complexity. It is necessary for the dancers to be united in what they are doing and therefore reach a common goal. This dance becomes more complex as the dancers gain more skill. There is always further to go.
  • The flame is passed onto the fire torches. This dance requires a greater degree of stamina but less skill. This dance represents and shows the energy of the younger people, and their ability to make decisions, always heading forwards, never standing still.
  • The flame then passes on to a large fire sculpture in the shape of a Uma Lulik Wekeke. This sculpture, which stands still, shows the strong links the Timorese have with their culture, their ancestors. In the strength of this image we see the time when East Timor is free and the people return. The house represents many things. The use of fire and this style of sculpture also make connections between the traditional and the contemporary.

Already at the initial stages the young people were talking about developing their skills further and creating a larger and longer performance. They appeared to be excited about the possibilities.

During the rehearsal programme there was some difficulty with late arrivals for rehearsal and the youth making their decisions whether to participate or not. Many of the girls said that the twirling batons were too heavy. Most people at Lafaek were already over committed to other activities in preparation for their cultural camp. In the end we had a group of ten people, including myself. There are obviously some language problems and some of the participants had only been in Australia for a very short time. However, the cultural adviser worked hard to ensure that things were clear at all times. José also took a strong leadership role, thus ensuring that the control of the work remained within the group.

At The Camp

Once we were at the camp several changes had to be made. The idea of the older women dancing first and handing the flame on was discarded as they were too busy. We needed to work out a new beginning. We decided that two of the younger members would carry coconut husks with a flame inside and that the flame torch dancers would light from this. We also made the fire sculpture which was a Timorese house, (Uma Lulik Wekeke).

We made a decision that the stage area was too small and that we would perform elsewhere. Cultural adviser, José Casimiro, chose the sight. It consisted of a long driveway which was lined with bamboo and palm arch ways, as well as paper bag lanterns. There was a circular space at the end. Two people did not attend the camp and we replaced them with two younger members of the club. We rearranged some sections and added a new beginning and end. We placed the fire sculpture down the driveway a way so that people could not see it.

As far as accompanying music we had several choices. We had taped some drumming music by Mickey Hart. This was contemporary music bases on old drum rhythms. Maria Alice Branco and another Timorese were also ready to play one single East Timorese Drum.

Performance

The dance was the finale to the evening programme. Drum Drum, (a Pacific Island percussion group, specialising in the rhythms of Papua New Guinea) ended up playing for the dance. This connection with another cultural group was a welcome last minute addition.

The dance was a great success, especially the lighting of the fire sculpture. No-one was ready for the effect. We had made the sculpture away from the main campers and very few people had seen it. Many of the older Timorese were overcome at the point of seeing the house burning.

The whole process was very important. There is a definite section of the East Timorese community who have difficulties with knowing where they fit into the many cultures at play in their lives. This project gave some of them an opportunity to participate where they would normally be observers. The positive response they received at the end was valuable. They are now in a position of having some basic skills, some knowledge of possibilities, and a great deal of enthusiasm to continue.

It is difficult in Darwin for these communities to make inroads into the contemporary aspects of their lives and especially the lives of their children. Work of this nature, working with professionals who have the skills, finding artists who have some cultural sensitivity, finding artists who can impart the skills, can be time consuming and costly. TRACKS Dance Collective agreed that we would not charge a fee for this work, as the community did not have the finances. The costs of the materials have been footed by David McMicken personally.

The East Timorese community is strong and vital. Some of the leaders in the community are very quick to pick up on the ideas and they have a very strong personal commitment to maintaining their own control over their culture and its many representations.

Creative Personnel

Direction: David McMicken
Cultural Liaison: Jose Casimiro
Key Informant: Donna Ines Casimiro

Performers

Lafaek East Timorese Youth Group

Scenario

  • Drumming introduction and fire lighting
  • Coconut husks and the passing on of the flame.
  • Bamboo and palm archways.
  • Circles.
  • Corridor patterns.
  • Lighting the image of the Uma Lulik Wekeke.

Tracks Dance Collective 1995

Co-Artistic Directors: Sarah Calver, David McMicken, Tim Newth

[Under Brown's Mart Community Arts – Executive Officer Ken Conway]

"Seeing the Uma Lulik Wekeke was something totally unexpected. I don’t know how to describe it but it made me cry." Azita Soares

"I liked the performance night, but I would have to say that the fire dance, in particular seeing the burning Uma Lulik Wekeke the feeling was so strong that it made my insides ache. My heart turned into a thousand black birds and flew up into the heavens." Inês Casimiro

(translated by José Casimiro from Tetum and Portuguese)

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