Sydney Convicts connect with culture
Rugby fans from all over the globe will get a taste of indigenous culture this week when the Sydney Convicts join forces with Bangarra Dance Theatre to present a performance at the opening ceremony of the Bingham Cup. By Cec Busby.
Rugby players and dancers may seem like an unlikely pairing, but for the past month the indigenous players from the Sydney Convicts have joined together with Bangarra Dance Theatre to work on a performance piece for the opening of the Bingham Cup.
The men behind this odd-couple paring are James Saunders, fly half for the Sydney Convicts, and Bangarra choreographer Patrick Thaiday. Thaiday has choreographed a piece the indigenous members of the Sydney Convicts will perform at the Opening Ceremony.
“I’ve played in four Bingham Cups around the world and always found them a great way to get to know the local people,” Saunders tells SX. “So I thought it would be appropriate to have a performance. Bangarra is a company I have a lot of respect for. I thought they could help us, as indigenous players, to connect with our culture and also help give people a great show while they are visiting Sydney.”
Above: The Sydney Convicts with Bangarra Dance Theatre's Patrick Thaiday. Photo: Cec Busby
It’s a sentiment Thaiday shares. Having spent the better part of a decade as a principal dancer for Bangarra before moving recently to the company’s education program, Thaiday is always eager to share indigenous culture with a wider audience.
He tells SX he was honoured to assist in bringing an indigenous representation to the opening ceremony and suggested the performance should dispel any theories that rugby players lacked grace. “You’ll definitely see the players moving in a different way,” he laughed.
Without giving away too many surprises, Thaiday and Saunders both reveal that the Convicts will be performing a dance in honour of Thaiday’s totem, the Baru (saltwater crocodile).
“There is something very exciting when you are an indigenous person to learn a dance and share it with people,” Saunders explains. He is also particularly pleased with their choice of totem for the dance.
Above: Sydney Convicts' James Saunders with Bangarra Dance Theatre's Patrick Thaiday. Photos: Cec Busby
“The Baru – the saltwater crocodile – is a powerful animal, a powerful creature, and as rugby players it’s an energy we hope to harness and take into our games.”
This will mark Saunders fifth foray as a player in the Bingham Cup. As someone who has played rugby since they were a kid, he describes the Bingham Cup as a very special event.
“For Sydney to have it, shows Australia and the southern hemisphere what this really beautiful tournament can do. Bingham Cup shows no matter if you’re gay or straight, you can still come along and have a go and after a game, win or lose, you have a beer with the other teams.”
While much has been made of the issue of homophobia in sport and the way the Bingham Cup is helping to break stereotypes and forge new anti-homophobia frameworks, Saunders says he never entered into a gay rugby team to prove a point.
“A lot of us don’t do it to break stereotypes – lot of us just do it because we love sport and we’re competitive people and we’re men. It’s a good way to show that.”
Saunders says he is looking forward to showing off his prowess on the field to his family, who will be making the trip down from far north Queensland, and he hopes the home crowd energy will give the Convicts the advantage come game time. He even suggests their time spent working on their choreographed routine with Thaiday is going to assist with their prowess on the field.
“I think it is actually going to enhance our rugby skills because we are working our body in a different way.”
Much has been made of the indigenous community’s affinity for rugby – in the nation’s far north, the sport is almost a religion. Saunders describes rugby as an exhilarating sport and suggested its sense of showmanship was often what appealed to a player.
“At one point in Aboriginal culture, men would have danced and performed to show off for lovers and elders and children. And I think rugby has taken that place in modern day, as a way for people to express themselves and show their athletic ability.”
He said he is looking forward to seeing how Sydney embraces the Bingham Cup, which he describes as a tight knit community. “I’m looking forward to Sydney seeing that and understanding that, because it adds another layer to the gay lifestyle.”
Finally he hopes that spectators viewing the opening ceremony will get a sense of the power and culture of the nation’s indigenous people. “Australia is a modern vibrant bustling city but at its heart is a strong indigenous presence and we want to share that,” Saunders says.
Thaiday agrees: “It’s about bringing our cultures together and celebrating on aboriginal land and letting people know we are a living culture as well.”
The Bingham Cup Opening Ceremony is on Thursday, August 27, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. Go to binghamcup.com for details.