Ian RT Colless—Gundungurra Choreographer and Artist

Communicating Indigenous Knowledge and Connection to Country through dance

Ian RT Colless, a First Nations Artist and Dancer who lives and works between Sydney and New York, will give a talk at the Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute Eco-Arts Seminar on Sunday 24 October, about his duty and deep sense of custodianship as a First  Nations dancer about his Gundungurra heritage and culture.

https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/blue-mountains-world-heritage-institute-eco-arts-seminar-tickets-

Ian is from the Dharabuladh (Therabluat) clan of the Gundungurra people, and a mixture of Irish and Welsh heritage. He is the grandson of the late Aunty Dawn Colless who was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal (a Federal award to honour people who have made a contribution to Australian society or government), and who was chosen to be a torchbearer for the 2000, XXVII Olympiad in the Blue Mountains.

Ian is a graduate of Newtown High School of the Performing Arts (NHSPA). He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) Creative Industries. A Bachelor of Arts (1st Class Honours) from Edith Cowan University’s, Western Australian Academy of the Performing Arts (WAAPA), and a Masters of Arts from New York University’s (NYU), Steinhardt School of Culture Education and Human Development. At NYU Ian completed an Independent Study and designed a curriculum, through full-time study, coursework and participation with the American Ballet Theatre (America’s National Ballet Company) and observation of The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School (NYC).

Ian has taught at NYU, QUT, WAAPA, Aboriginal Centre of Performing Arts (ACPA), The University of Sydney, University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Sydney Dance Company Pre-Professional Year, and NAISDA Dance College. His formal education and professional experiences around the globe have seen him ascertain expertise to lead, design, organise and deliver exceptional: programs, workshops, resources, syllabus and curriculum to a variety populations and mixed demographics internationally.

Ian has held three public service roles at Arts NSW (now formally known as Create NSW). Over the duration of these roles Ian was involved implementing (Stage Two) of the NSW Aboriginal Arts and Cultural Strategy (2015 – 2018) into the sector.

As a choreographer Ian has been commissioned to create works at; the Alvin Ailey American Citigroup Theatre (NYC), La MaMa Moves Dance Festival (Broadway, NYC), The Queens Fringe Festival (NYC), Summer Stage Central Park (NYC), The Australian Consulate (NYC), National Dance Week (NYC), Peri Dance Showcase (NYC), The Australian Embassy Washington (DC), New York University (NYC), The RUBABOO Arts Festival hosted in collaboration with Alberta Aboriginal Arts (Canada), Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences; Powerhouse (NSW), The Official Opening of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Centre (NSW), NAIDOC Week (NSW), The Brisbane Festival’s ‘Indigenous Closing Ceremony’ (QLD), Link Dance Company (WA), NAISDA Dance College (NSW) and the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (NYC).

The Meaning of NAIDOC Week 2020

When Ian was asked by Create NSW to talk about the meaning of NAIDOC Week in 2020, he talked about his own journey of realisation about his responsibilities as a dancer, artist and teacher towards his Gundungurra heritage.

“It was my second week at New York University studying Dance. It was a different world to what I was used to. Monday they gave me a 400-page book, Wednesday they gave me a 800-page book, Thursday they gave me a 1200-page book, and by Friday I was so overwhelmed I just got up in the middle of my class and said,

“I’m sorry, I can’t do this anymore.”

“In that moment I was just thinking I’m a dancer, I’m not teacher. I took myself home that night went straight to bed and I had this dream. I cannot tell you what was in this dream, but I had this moment of clarity where I understood everything. I was in this course because I had a duty to educate – I came here to learn how to teach. I am custodian of my culture. This is my responsibility.”

“My Nan would always have these big yarns in the kitchen with me. With a cuppa in her hand she would sit me down and explain the importance of our cultural responsibilities. Lifting the tea, she would point at the cup stain it would leave behind and say:

See this here Ian, this cup stain. This stain will be me one day. I will no longer be the coffee in the mug but the stain it will leave behind. I will be the imprint and the impression left in the generations that come after me. They will know me because I lived up to my responsibilities and passed down the knowledge that was passed to me.”

This responsibility became more evident when I continued my studies and became a dancer at the American Ballet Theatre (America’s National Ballet Company) and observation of The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School (NYC) where I was told,

“Ian, you’re a good dancer but you’re a great choreographer.”

I realised that I have a duty and a deep sense of custodianship. This sense of duty that I have had has afforded me the privilege to grow into and intimately know the way of doing, being and knowing that is my culture. It is my job as a cultural man to take the knowledge passed down to me and create something new with it to continue the cycle of cultural legacy. It is interwoven in my spiritual being. When I do my cultural dance, I invoke all those who have come before me. I feel it in my being; they are with me. The legacy of their stories, their knowledge, their very essence is felt so deeply because I understand that it’s so much more than a dance- it’s a reminder of the ‘multiconnectiveness’ that is our being. Culture and art mean so much to me I can’t put it in words, but I can ‘do’ it in my custodial pursuits and in choreography. I understand that when I dance, I dance the exact same dance as those who have come before me and I can feel them in that moment. A unified spirit without the confines space and time.

‘Always Was & Always Will Be’ is not in the dreamtime because this is the Dreaming. We are in the dreaming and we are still here. Our stories have never ended. We are the oldest continuous culture in the known universe. We were here long before and we will be here long after. Our culture and our art will always be the tool to tell our stories of Country, of our old ones, of family and of our duty. As a cultural practitioner, artist and arts worker – I’m here to pass those stories down and be that tea stain for future generations.”

I have realised that I have a duty and a deep sense of custodianship. This sense of duty that I have had has afforded me the privilege to grow into and intimately know the way of doing, being and knowing that is my culture.

It is my job as a cultural man to take the knowledge passed down to me and create something new with it to continue the cycle of cultural legacy. It is interwoven in my spiritual being. When I do my cultural dance, I invoke all those who have come before me. I feel it in my being; they are with me.

The legacy of their stories, their knowledge, their very essence is felt so deeply because I understand that it’s so much more than a dance- it’s a reminder of the ‘multiconnectiveness’ that is our being. Culture and art mean so much to me I can’t put it in words, but I can ‘do’ it in my custodial pursuits and in choreography. I understand that when I dance, I dance the exact same dance as those who have come before me and I can feel them in that moment. A unified spirit without the confines space and time.

‘Always Was & Always Will Be’ is not in the dreamtime because this is the Dreaming. We are in the dreaming and we are still here. Our stories have never ended. We are the oldest continuous culture in the known universe. We were here long before and we will be here long after. Our culture and our art will always be the tool to tell our stories of Country, of our old ones, of family and of our duty. As a cultural practitioner, artist and arts worker – I’m here to pass those stories down and be that tea stain for future generations.”