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Traditional culture on modern stage

05 May 2017

Traditional culture on modern stage Image

Docklands resident Jacob Boehme has an exciting job.

He is the creative director of the inaugural YIRRAMBOI Festival that will run across Melbourne from May 5 to 14.

YIRRAMBOI Festival, also known as First Nations Arts Festival, celebrates indigenous art and culture on the contemporary stage.

In addition to Aboriginal Australians, the first people from New Zealand, Canada, United States, Scotland, Pacific Islands, Wales and Taiwan will also converge in Melbourne to showcase their traditional and evolving cultures.

Mr Boehme was born to an Aboriginal Australian father and a British-Irish mother. He started acting at the age of 13 and attended a dance college in Sydney. He then moved to theatre and play writing and obtained two masters degrees in arts and performance.

He said YIRRAMBOI Festival was not about the old way of showing traditional Aboriginal dances and music, but to “translate the 60,000-year-old culture into modern art”.

“This festival focuses on indigenous contemporary art. The festival highlights individual and diverse artistic expression in the 21st century. You won’t see a lot of cultural practice in the traditional sense,” he said.

“We do have quite a big practice of contemporary and experimental art. But people don’t often get to see it on the main stage because they only get to see one narrative,” he said.

According to Mr Boehme, a lot of emphasis is placed on the interaction between the audience and artists or their artworks, especially through modern technology such as videos, installations and games.

“Instead of just sitting back and watching, the audience gets a chance to learn and engage with the performances and exhibitions,” he said.

Library at the Dock will host a Wurundjeri language song and dance program throughout the 10-day festival, where children and adults can come and learn some words in the Indigenous language at fun and interactive traditional song and dance workshops.

“An elder has always said to me: If you walk on this land, then you are responsible for the stories of this land,” Mr Boehme said. “So the non-Aboriginal community can engage and learn more about the country’s traditional art translated into modern language.”

The First Nations Arts Festival is brought by the City of Melbourne.

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said: “Indigenous leadership, dialogue, new ideas and international collaboration are the four key principles of the YIRRAMBOI Festival, which means ‘tomorrow’ in the shared languages of Boon Wurrung and Woi Wurrung.”

“With all work created, choreographed, produced, directed and performed by Indigenous artists, the City of Melbourne is empowering a new generation of Aboriginal creatives to become cultural leaders,” Cr Doyle said.

YIRRAMBOI Festival is inclusive for the entire community and most of the programs are free. For more information, visit

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