Michael Leslie returns to stage for 3.3 rite of passage with Ochre


Ian Wilkes (Ellenbrook), Michael Leslie (Forrestfield) and Mark Howett (Fremantle). Picture: Andrew Ritchie d482847
Ian Wilkes (Ellenbrook), Michael Leslie (Forrestfield) and Mark Howett (Fremantle). Picture: Andrew Ritchie d482847

INDIGENOUS choreographer Michael Leslie decided he was destined for a dance career after seeing a shampoo commercial in the 1970s.

However, his desire to perform became about so much more.

“We don’t see it but there is a path for us Aboriginal people to go down and I was going down that path,” Leslie said.

“I was a father at 19, I’d dropped out of school and had that twinkle in my eye. My future seemed very bleak at the time but seeing that commercial got me into dancing.”

He was a founding student at NAISDA Dance College in NSW before receiving the Churchill Fellowship in 1981 to study at the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre in New York.

“I came back to Australia and stopped dancing because there was a bigger picture there for me, although I didn’t know what the picture was,” the 60-year-old said.

“My role was to come home to set up the institutions and the companies as training and pathways to empower our people.

“Things aren’t going to change for us as a race of people but what I can change is the lives of individuals in that race. It’s the truth, so why treat it with kid gloves when our people are dying.”

Leslie went on to set up the Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts and the Certificate IV course at WAAPA, is a founder of Black Swan Theatre Company and Marrugeku Physical Theatre Company and choreographed Bran Nue Dae and Sista Girl.

He is now working with Ochre Contemporary Dance Company on 3.3 with performer Ian Wilkes under the direction of Mark Howett.

Leslie will return to the stage for the first time in decades in the piece named after the 3.3 per cent of Aboriginal people making up Australia’s total population, performing in a prison cell with Wilkes as he examines incarceration as a rite of passage for young urban black men.

“This piece talks about the injustices to our people in the 21st century,” he said.

“When the convicts came out and there were soldiers, they created the Australian Police Force and the massacres started. Our people will continue to die in jail and still be locked up and arrested and it’s not going to change.

“I came out of black theatre in Redfern, and Sydney being the political hub back in the 1970s, means I’m a political person and have a responsibility to tell this story.

“I’ve never been in jail but that’s not because I respect the police, it’s just how I’ve been brought up.”

Wilkes will communicate his anger, frustration and people’s history via original dance steps created by Leslie to describe 100 words from the Gamilaraay language.

3.3 appears on a double-bill with new work Beyond, performed by Floeur Alder and choreographed by Chrissie Parrott.

THE ESSENTIALS

What: 3.3 and Beyond

Where: Subiaco Arts Centre

When: May 26 to June 2

Tickets: www.ptt.wa.gov.au