Thomas Greenfield brings his bag of tricks to Bangarra's Patyegarang
Being the only fourth non-indigenous dancer ever to perform with Bangarra is a real privilege, says Thomas Greenfield. Ahead of Bangarra’s 25th anniversary production, Patyegarang, the dancer speaks with Garrett Bithell.
Thomas Greenfield’s performance in Bangarra Dance Theatre’s 25th anniversary production Patyegarang marks only the fourth time in the company’s history that a non-indigenous dancer has taken to the stage.
“It’s an absolute honour and kind of a dream come true to work with Bangarra,” Greenfield tells SX. “As a student I contacted the company, and being non-indigenous I thought even approaching them for a secondment probably wouldn’t be possible. But I spent two weeks with the company five years ago when they were doing their 20-year retrospective show Fire.
“Once I did that I was sure there wouldn’t be another chance to experience this brilliant company, and but last year [artistic director] Stephen Page called me about Patyegarang, and now I’m a guest artist! It’s a real privilege.”
The powerful and historically important production will acquaint audiences with Patyegarang, a young Aboriginal woman who befriended Lieutenant William Dawes when the colonial fleet arrived on Eora country in the late 18th century. Dawes faithfully recorded his encounters with Patyegarang, who gifted him her language in an extraordinary display of trust and friendship. Rediscovered in 1972, his notebooks are transcripts of a remarkable cultural exchange. Greenfield is playing Dawes opposite Jasmin Sheppard’s Patyegarang.
Watch the preview to Patyegarang
Although the relationship between Patyegarang and Dawes has inspired our imaginations insofar as how different the ‘first contact’ could have been, Greenfield asserts this shouldn’t be our focus. “We should be proud that something hasbeen regained, and that something further hasn’t been lost,” he says. “It’s not a story of loss – it’s a story about the reclaiming of the Eora language, and the reclaiming of identity and pride that follows. It shouldn’t be about ‘what if?’.
While Greenfield is finding Page’s choreographic style challenging, it’s feeling good in the body. “I started dance really late when I was 21, so my kind of convention of dance is very unconventional,” he tells.
“The last couple of places I’ve worked I’ve been able to develop a grounded style of movement, so to be able to work with Bangarra, which has a very strong into-the-ground element, has been challenging, particularly in terms of the angles and the extension of limbs. But at the same time I feel it really agrees with my approach to movement.”
Greenfield comes from a sports background, training in track and field, surf lifesaving, Australian Rules Football, swimming and kick-boxing. He graduated from Adelaide College of the Arts in 2009 with a Bachelor of Dance Performance and has since worked with companies such as Expressions, Kage, Australian Dance Theatre, DV8. He has a strong foundation in krump and break-dancing, and was featured in the 2009 Australian documentary Burn City.
But working with Bangarra is a definite highlight.
“It goes without saying they make incredible work, but there’s such a respect and appreciation of everyone, from everyone, on every level,” he says. “There are no divas, it’s just harmony. It’s really rare to find that in adance company! There’s always one disgruntled danceror you’re being worked too hard, but here there is just this beautiful respect. All the dancers are brilliantly open minded, accepting and reassuring people.”
[Main image] ‘A dream come true’ ... Thomas Greenfield. Photo: Supplied
Patyegarang, Sydney Opera House, June 13 – July 5. Bookings: www.sydneyoperahouse.com