Based on Lieutenant William Dawes notebooks during the arrival of the first fleet, the story of “Patyegarang” is released from the page and onto the stage. Powerful, evocative and exquisitely performed under Stephen Page’s choreography from the Bangarra Dance Theatre, I interview leading lady Patyegarang, played by Jasmin Sheppard, and Thomas Greenfield who plays the character of William Dawes.
Jasmin, you have an eclectic background of Irish, Chinese, Russian Jew and Aboriginal. Tell us about heritage?
Jasmin: I’m proud to be an aboriginal woman and my people originate from the Gulf of Carpentaria in Queensland. My mum’s father was a Russian Jew and through Facebook we’ve discovered family across the US including Alabama.
Thomas: My background is nowhere near as exotic. I’m a 7th generation white Australian. My father’s from rural South Australia and there’s some Welsh and Irish blood in the mix too.
I believe you performed beneath a star studded sky in front of Indigenous rural communities throughout Australia?
Jasmin: I’ve performed a few times under the stars in North Arnhem Land and Torres Strait; it was a magical experience, there were no city lights and we danced beneath the milky way. Some of the audience had never been to the theatre before and they loved it. After the show they all gathered on stage and went wild.
Thomas: Not yet!
Jasmin, you joined Bangarra in 2007 and tell me about the company and your roles?
Jasmin: The first year with the company I performed in “True Stories” where I explored the dancing and theatrical side of production. In “Fire – Retrospective” I tapped into my emotions and discovered just how much I love to perform. I’d say this production was a turning point for me.
Thomas: I’ve joined Bangarra as a guest artist so sadly I’ll be leaving the group in Melbourne.
Jasmin: No, we’re keeping you!
Thomas: I wish! Before I came on board I was a guest artist with Expressions Dance Company. I didn’t get into dance until I was 21, which is very late for a dancer and my first gig was in Townsville and straight out of Adelaide College, which was very fortunate.
Describe your dance style?
Thomas: I’d call it unique, grounded and raw. Not conventional at all with naturalistic movements. It’s powerful, almost outer-worldly and not forced like some contemporary dance can be.
Jasmin: I’ve been dancing since I was 15 and have tried many different styles. I’d say for Patyegarang my movements are also naturalistic. It’s all encompassing and ties back to my heritage.
Describe your role in Patyegarang?
Jasmin: I play the lead Patyegarang and it’s incredibly challenging. I’ve emotionally delved into the role and not held anything back. I relate to the moving story based on my personal life experiences.
Thomas: I play the role of William Dawes who is a white naval officer from the first fleet. My character is based on a true story and I’m an outsider looking in documenting my observations in diaries from 1788 until 1791. I begin writing in a military style but once I meet Patyegarang three months in, she gives me the gift of her extraordinary language and I adopt a freer narrative style.
Are the diaries still inexistence?
Thomas: Yes, they’re in archives in the London museum. They were found by an African woman in the 1972 as William Dawes visited Africa at some point.
What does a day on tour entail for you?
Jasmin: It’s opening night so it’s a full-on day. At midday we have a warm up, then we meet the media, rehearse and refine the performance into the new space. Then we have a rest, dinner, a warmup and then we have time to focus and get into the right mindset.
Jasmin: After Perth we perform in Brisbane, Melbourne and with some extra shows in Sydney.
Thomas: Sadly, since I’m only a guest, after Melbourne I’ll be applying for 40 jobs a month, so Centrelink line will be next for me. I’m based in Adelaide and Melbourne so I’ll return there and see what comes up.
Patyegarang plays at the State Theatre Centre of Western Australia 30 July – 2nd August.