‘Sometimes you have to leave country to let it dance by itself’
“Sometimes you have to leave country to let it dance by itself,” says actor and musician Tom E. Lewis, the artistic director of arguably one of Australia’s most spectacular spiritual and cultural festivals.
For 14 years Lewis, the Murrungun man famous for his 1978 role in the Fred Schepisi film The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith has overseen the Walking with Spirits festival at Beswick Falls, 100kms south-east of Katherine in the Northern Territory.
But this year he says the July 23 festival will be held in the heart of the Beswick community to give the falls a rest and to try out something new.
The day will feature corroborree, didjeridoo and weaving workshops and climax with an evening concert featuring some of Australia’s hottest new performers.
“It’s our church,” Lewis says of the falls. “We love to go there all the time, but sometimes you have to change to do something new. The country won’t leave us and it’s still part of the festival.
“We’re going to try doing it in the community to explore this new idea we have.”
More than 800 people are expected at the festival which will be headlined by rising NT star Stanley Gawurra Gaykamangu, whose debut album was given a sizzling 4.5 out of 5 stars by Rolling Stone Australia magazine.
Gawurra will give his first live concert performance of the album Ratja Yaliyali at the event.
“It makes so much sense for someone as spiritually toned as Gawurra to premiere this beautiful body of music at Walking with Spirits,” Lewis says.
Also in the line up is Groot Eylandt’s Emily Wurramara and Beswick band Bunna Laurie & Coloured Stone. Traditional dancers will include Malu-Kiai Mura Buai from the Torres Strait Islands. A new cultural precinct made possible by former Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe and the Fred Hollows estate is also being opened during the day.
“We need to bring people in to celebrate with us,” Lewis says. “We need to open the gates by celebrating with our new families and people who come to be with us.
“It gives us a richness. It’s like an exhibition of our cultural world. I’m not there trying to make it all political. It’s more to do with the generosity and forgiveness of how we are as people.”
Lewis dreams of a day when the communities across Australia — and outside Australia — can be united.
“I got to do East Timor and the Torres Strait, Fiji and all the islands next year and we bring them in,” he says. “Get the family from Western Australia, from Adelaide, Tasmania . . . like that. Bring all our families to one spot and make everyone dance together.”
Lewis says he’d also like to see communities across Australia exchange artists-in-residence.
“In medicine and art we congregate a bit like Robin Hood and we get stronger and we don’t need to rob the rich,” he says. “We’re already rich in our own country. How can we ever feel poor? My thing is to do things in your community and then bring other communities into your community.”
Meanwhile, Lewis is this week flying to London to play King Lear in The Shadow King, the indigenous remake of the Shakespeare classic about a king who descends into madness.
The play will make it’s international debut at London’s Barbican Centre from June 22 to July 2 as part of a program to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. More than 10,000 people are expected to see the show.
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