Indian and Australian artistes collaborate for Sydney show

What does a didgeridoo, tabla and opera music have in common? Not much. But these sounds reverberated through the iconic Sydney Opera House on Sunday as Indian and Australian artistes came together to perform.

TRADITIONAL TOUCH: Pung Cholom performance by a troupe from Manipur in India at the Confluence festival held in Sydney.

As a part of the ongoing Confluence – Festival of India in Australia, artistes from across disciplines collaborated: aboriginal dancers from Australia shared the stage with the Pung Cholom dancers from Manipur in India, and a Western a cappella group sang with Indian classical singers.

Adapting to change
It wasn’t all easy. For Pung Cholom dancer Ngangbam Sunil Singh, the challenge was to adapt to a very different kind of form.

“We had two days to figure out how to blend our form with the aboriginal dancers. Both our groups have very different rhythms. So it was a challenge, but we took some parts of their dance and some of ours and combined them,” said Mr. Singh.

Binkin Ngugi, who played the didgeridoo with the Nunukul Yuggera Aboriginal Dancers group, said though it was the first time that they collaborated with Indian folk and classical artistes, it came naturally.

“There are some similarities in the music and in the meaning of songs,” he said. The manager of the aboriginal dance group, Eddie Ruskin, added that indigenous Australians and Indians shared some similarities.

“For instance, we have a common respect for our elders,” he said. For Sue Sturgess, who was a part of the a cappella group, working with Indian musicians and singers was “relaxing”. “We’re used to a very restricted form, so it required a mental shift to be making up the notes as we sang. It was relaxing for a change,” she said.

While the festival, which is touring seven Australian cities, began last month, the gala at the Opera House was the showcase for both Indian and Australian authorities. Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma, who attended the show, said at a reception earlier in the evening that it was a “proud moment for both India and Australia” that the Festival of India, as announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in November 2014, had been successful. At the Opera House, the audience was in a celebratory mood, with people singing along to the Raghu Dixit Project, which closed the show.

Reaching out to all
Indian High Commissioner to Australia Navdeep Suri told The Hindu that the aim of the festival was to attract the mainstream arts-loving community, not just the Indian diaspora. “We looked for premium venues like the Sydney Opera House to showcase premium acts. The festival has had a very successful week,” he said.