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DanceRites returns to the Opera House Forecourt

– DanceRites returns with largest on-site competition to date –

Sydney – Wednesday 13 September, 2023. Australia’s only national dance competition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups, DanceRites, returns to the Sydney Opera House Forecourt this November.

The free event will be the largest on-site iteration of the competition since it began in 2015. Twenty-one dance groups and more than 300 performers from over 30 nations and clans across Australia will take to the Forecourt in a joyous celebration of First Nations music, dance and culture.

DanceRites will unfold over two days, with heats on Saturday 25 November and finals on Sunday 26 November. Each group will present a Cultural Dance and Song cycle, representing their local storytelling and language, with many also performing an optional ‘Wildcard’ dance to showcase their unique style.

Sydney Opera House Head of First Nations Programming, Michael Hutchings, said: “Over the past nine years, DanceRites has grown into one of our country’s most joyful First Nations cultural events. It’s an important moment for First Nations dance groups and communities across Australia to showcase their diverse cultures and storytelling traditions - that go back thousands of years - through the powerful mediums of dance and song. Lockdowns meant pausing for a couple of years, so it will be very special to welcome hundreds of deadly performers and an audience of thousands back to the Opera House for the first time since 2019.”

NSW Minister for the Arts, Minister for Music and the Night-time Economy, The Hon. John Graham MLC, said: “It’s great to see DanceRites return to the Opera House this year. Every year the competition grows and this year will see the biggest one yet. The competition brings together First Nations performers in a weekend-long Forecourt celebration, and I encourage everyone to get out and see this incredible arts and cultural event in the heart of the city.”

Groups will be judged by a panel of First Nations dance experts on their technical dance skills, engagement with language and culture, skin-markings and traditional instrumentation. The panel is:

  • Elma Gada Kris (Wagadagam Kigus, Kai Dangal Buai, Sipingur): 2019 NAIDOC Artist of the Year, Elma’s career as a dancer, choreographer and teacher saw her become Bangarra Dance Theatre’s longest serving dancer to date;
  • Gina Rings (Kokatha Mirning): With extensive experience representing contemporary and traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures through theatre, dance and film, Gina has worked as a dancer, choreographer, director, producer, and is currently a producer with Country Arts SA;
  • Matthew Doyle (Muruwari): Passionate about passing on the culture of the Sydney peoples through language, music, story, song and dance, Matthew is a songman, dancer, musician and educator;
  • Peta Strachan (Dharug): Founder and currently Artistic Director of Jannawi Dance Clan, Peta is a professional dancer, choreographer, teacher, costume and prop maker with 37 years experience in the industry and an Alumni of NAISDA, AIDT and Bangarra; and
  • Sani Townson (Koedal, Dhoeybaw, Samu Saibai Island Zenadth Kes): An award-winning dancer who trained with NAISDA Dance College, Sani has also worked as a choreographer, writer, theatre-maker, and mentor, and is currently Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Youth Program Coordinator.

The groups competing at DanceRites 2023 include:

  • AFL Cape York Cultural Dance (Cairns & Cape York QLD)
  • ALLKUMO Malpa Paman (Southern Kaantju and Ayapathu, QLD)
  • Brolga Dance Academy (Gamilaroi and Murrawarri, NSW)
  • Budaabang Bari (Budaabang, NSW)
  • Buuja Buuja Butterfly Dancers (Wiradjuri, NSW)
  • Deaf Indigenous Dance Group (Gimuy Walubara Yidinji, QLD)
  • Dinawan's Connection (Ngemba, NSW)
  • Dhanggati Baayati (Dunghutti, NSW)
  • Eip Karem Beizam (Meriam, Torres Strait Islands)
  • Giingan Yiiliwiyay Girrwaa (Gumbaynggirr, NSW)
  • Gumaraa Dancers (Gadhu, NSW)
  • Maarli Nhuuhngkhus Pikilarna maarni (Ngympyiaa, Barkindji & Maaura, VIC)
  • Mui Mui Bumer Gedlam (Peiudu, Torres Strait Islands)
  • Ngadju Dancers (Ngadju, WA)
  • Ngagalayg Kabaw Buway AFL Cape York (Cairns & Torres Strait Islands, QLD)
  • Ngaran Ngaran (Walbunja, Djirringanj and Ngarrigu, NSW)
  • Of Desert and Sea (Yankunytjatjara, SA)
  • Sundowners Kalkutungu Dancers (Kalkutungu, QLD)
  • Swan Hill Aboriginal Dance Group (Wemba Wemba, VIC)
  • Walanmarra Malungan (Wiradjuri, NSW)
  • Yangkay Cultural Connect (Ngemba, NSW)

A total of $36,000 in prizes will be awarded this year, including group awards for the winner and runner-up, as well as a separate prize for the best ‘Wildcard’ dance. Two Rites of Passage awards will also acknowledge outstanding contributions to revitalising cultural knowledge and practices.

DanceRites is free for all to attend on the Opera House Forecourt. To receive audience information in the lead up to the event, sign up here.

The Sydney Opera House acknowledges the generous support of DanceRites donors as well as Event Sponsor Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, which provides accommodation for dance groups on Cockatoo Island / Wareamah.

For media information, please contact:

Amity Harrold
Senior Communications Manager 
0487 573 797

Kelly Geater
Communications Specialist
0452 289 930