Dancing from the heart and exploring deep connections to Country, NAISDA Dance College is bringing Ngoenakap to Sydney’s Carriageworks this week.

Directed by NAISDA alum and former Bangarra Dance Theatre dancer, Sani Townson, Ngoenakap explores the connections First Nations Peoples have to kinship and Country.

Ngoenakap means ‘heart’ in my Torres Strait Islander language of Kala Lagaw Ya,” Mr Townson said.

“My heart to dance, my heart for homeland and my heart to teach and share.”

A proud Torres Strait Islander man, Mr Townson is an experienced artist and choreographer who has worked both nationally and internationally in the performing arts.

Ngoenakap for me is the person within community that acts as the glue. The person whose story resonates with you to leave a lasting impression. You find yourself amazed and inspired by their life in a remote community living amongst culture every day,” Mr Townson said.

The 2019 Sydney season showcases the work of NAISDA Developing Artists and reflects not only on the deeply personal connection to culture, community and Country, but NAISDA itself.

“For me, and many others who have come through this incredible institution, it is the heartbeat of our creative practice which gave us our professional springboard into the Arts Industry,” Mr Townson said.

Ngoenakap is my full circle. I am returning to where it all began.”

NAISDA Diploma Developing Artist, Kiara Wilson said working on the production with Mr Townson has been an amazing process.

“It’s been really fun, he’s a really bubbly creative,” Ms Wilson said.

The 21-year-old dancer said Ngoenakap has given her a new perspective of Indigenous culture, one she hasn’t explored at NAISDA before.

Kiara Wilson, 21, performing with NAISDA. Photo by Lisa Haymes.

“It’s a lot more vibrant, fun, playful … it’s the first time we’ve explored this realm of Indigenous culture – which is awesome,” Ms Wilson said.

“Sani has this beautiful sharpness … a whole different style of movement, and it’s really shown in the show.”

Born on Yawuru Country in Broome with mob hailing from Bruce Rock in the Halls Creek area, Ms Wilson said that in short – her experience at NAISDA has been life-changing.

Auditioning at just 16 while still in Year 11, Ms Wilson said her dance teacher at St Mary’s College, Vicki Thompson, was instrumental in kicking off her NAISDA journey.

In her penultimate week before graduating from NAISDA, Ms Wilson said she’s been taking more of a leadership role with this year’s showcase and has used the opportunity to teach some of the younger dancers choreography.

Each year NAISDA takes part in cultural residencies, alternating between the Torres Strait and northeast Arnhem Land. This year they went to Moa Island, the second largest island in the Torres Strait.

“[Ngoenakap] is all about heart and a lot of it is based on … [Mr Townson’s friend],” Ms Wilson said.

The story follows his journey as a single, gay, Torres Strait Islander parent raising kids and living his life.

“It’s kind of me giving my respect to his life and relating it back to the struggles that we all have [in] our life and the blessings that we all have in our life,” Ms Wilson said.

For the young talent, the feeling dance gives her is almost indescribable.

“I know when I’m not dancing, I feel sickly. I feel sloppy,” Ms Wilson said.

“If I’m doing contemporary, I have this freeing feeling, it’s like you’re on top of the world … [and] corroboree – that’s a whole new ball game in itself there. That’s good for the soul, you get to connect with your ancestors, and you get to do their dances.”

Ms Wilson’s final season will be a special one – her family is flying all the way from Broome to see her dance in Sydney.

“It’s the first time my whole family is going to be here,” Ms Wilson said.

Ms Wilson’s parents, two younger siblings and grandmother will all be in attendance on opening night this Thursday.

“[My mum and my gran], I wouldn’t be anywhere without those two women.”

Ngoenakap is on at Carriageworks in Sydney from Wednesday November 20 to Saturday November 23.

By Hannah Cross