Pulling strings to tell our stories

Aboriginal artist, dancer and puppeteer Jacob Boehme. (CREDIT: Bindi Cole)

NATIONAL: KATE MUNRO* speaks to Jacob Boehme, a dancer, artist and puppeteer who is deeply passionate about keeping our cultural stories alive.

“When you feel you have something to say, or a vision to communicate, I’ve learnt that experimenting with different artistic practices gives you the courage to push forth and express it.”

Jacob Boehme is committed to our culture – its survival, its revitalisation, its on-going maintenance and its contemporary values.

He has a way of merging general traditional Aboriginal ways of being with a unique and spiritual identity that the new generation can embrace.

Born and raised in Fitzroy, Melbourne, Jacob’s direct ancestry extends from the Yorke Peninsula to the Adelaide Hills; he is of the Narangga and Kaurna people. Jacob’s art is infectious. His story telling through dance provides a pathway from an, at times, confused and consumerist western lifestyle, to a time when ceremony was vital and a true worship of nature and when creator spirits provided a holistic connection with our world.

Jacob is a dancer, puppeteer, choreographer, writer and theatre maker. He trained at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Skills Development Association and also attended the prestigious Victorian College of the Arts where he completed a Post Graduate Diploma in Puppetry, and a Masters in Puppetry.

He’s a firm believer in our cultural stories and the need to keep them alive, particularly through dance and puppetry.

Jacob founded the innovative Indigenous contemporary dance and visual theatre company, IDJA, which is based in Melbourne

He is currently its Artistic Director and feels it addresses a need. Victoria had been the only state in Australia without an “Indigenous dance presence.” .

“I established IDJA (meaning skin in the Indigenous language of the Narangga people of South Australia) due to what I perceived as an almost desperate need to have a formal body to represent Indigenous dance down here in Victoria,” he said.

“I think this body now has a great scope and opportunity to develop relationships on, firstly, a national scale, but also an international scale,” he added.

“This is where some of the exciting ground work can begin. It’s about cultural revitalisation, and to showcase and create professional opportunities for our Aboriginal dancers based here and their striking abilities in dance and theatre.”

The company is currently in residence at the Footscray Community Arts Centre.

“As our (traditional) stories are so visual, puppetry and dance is the perfect fusion,” he said. “It can be really challenging to create a puppet that is brought to life through dance…but I love that challenge and working with the dancers to do this,” he added.

Jacob has spearheaded a number of productions through IDJA and his national cultural connections.

Lu’arn, is one such production. It was created and developed by Jacob in conjunction with Victorian Aboriginal Elder and NAIDOC Elder of the year (2011), Aunty Carolyn Briggs.

It is a contemporary dance piece based on a traditional story of the Boon Wurrung people of Victoria.

It was initially launched at the Yalukit Willam Ngargee Festival, a part of the renowned St Kilda Festival, in 2010. A documentary of the same name which details the dance piece and story of Lu’arn was also launched at the St Kilda Film Festival in 2010.

The story, told by Aunty Carolyn, tells of the first initiate and instructor of Men’s lore within the Boon wurrung culture. “It’s now being developed into a full length dance and visual theatre piece, and will be the first premiere IDJA production. I’m hoping we’ll have it ready by February of 2012,” Jacob said.

“Lu’arn started as an idea, and has now grown into a large reality…I continue to work with Aunty Carolyn. I’m being directed by the Elders; they guide me and give me advice. Lu’arn was the retelling of a traditional story and reinvigorating of ceremony,” he added

Jacob has travelled extensively with his work, nationally and internationally. He recently attended the Assitej World Congress and Festival in Sweden and Denmark.

“This conference of cultural and artistic exchange was fantastic,” he said. “It bought together a collection of youth theatre makers and artists from across the world,” he added. “I felt honoured to represent our mob, and put IDJA out there to the world…it was a humbling experience.”

Jacob believes that Indigenous cultural exchanges are vital for our youth in allowing a connection with our own culture, and an understanding of other Indigenous cultures.

He recently worked with dancers from Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, merging traditional dance with contemporary theatre.

This stage one piece was premiered at this years’ Cairns Indigenous Art Festival.

Jacob feels strongly about his role as an Aboriginal artist and cultural practitioner and is inspired by the young, dynamic Aboriginal and Islander dancers he works with.

“I feel that I’m doing what my family didn’t get a chance to do – to express culture – and now I’m doing it on their behalf. I’m taking up that opportunity,” he said

* For more information, please see

** Kate Munro is a descendent of the Gamilaroi people of Caroona, North-West NSW. She has a long history in Aboriginal media.

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