When Elle Evangelista first met Luke Currie-Richardson in 2012, she was a hot mess, “and not in a sexy way”, she tells us. She had just come off stage from a very intense 15-minute dance unison piece called Fugue – inspired by the director’s study of a “dancing plague” that occurred in 1518 in Strasbourg, where men and women were said to have danced for days.
Evangelista was studying at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, or WAAPA, and Currie-Richardson was in town on his first regional tour as a dancer.
Six years later the couple is still together and, after stints living in cities across Australia, they now share a tiny studio apartment in a 1920s heritage building in Darlinghurst, in Sydney’s inner east.
They love it so much, each morning and night they greet it with a “hello” and “goodbye”, Evangelista says. “It has so much personality,” she adds. “It’s got a balcony with city views and the building’s heritage gives it a lovely, artistic vibe.”
Evangelista and Currie-Richardson are bursting with pride about each other's achievements. As we chat they are quick to correct each other's humility as they respond and answer questions about their lives. “He’s being modest,” Evangelista often interjects.
The pair both danced from an early age, but neither intended to pursue it as a career. Currie-Richardson began participating in traditional Torres Strait Islander dance when he was 10. He’s a descendant of the Kuku Yalanji and Djabugay peoples, the Munaldjali Clan of south-east Queenland and the Meriam people of the eastern Torres Strait Islands, and has a large, close-knit family, most of whom love to dance. It was one of his aunties who pressured him to get up and dance at a family event. Years later, she encouraged him to audition for his first show, even though he had no formal training.
Currie-Richardson studied dance at NAISDA (National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association) and in 2010 completed a bachelor of fine arts (dance) at the Queensland University of Technology. In 2012 – the year he met Evangelista – he performed in the playwright and artistic director Wesley Enoch's I Am Eora for Sydney Festival. Later that year he received a call from another artistic director, Stephen Page, asking him to join Bangarra as a trainee dancer – he’s been with the Indigenous Australian dance company ever since.
He’s dancing in its current production, Dark Emu, which is inspired by Bruce Pascoe’s book of the same name. It centres on the long history of Indigenous agricultural practice, drawing upon visual and written historical references.
Before joining Bangarra, Currie-Richardson had never travelled overseas. Now he’s performed across the globe and will be touring internationally this year. But while his schedule is locked in years in advance, Evangelista’s is the opposite. She’s a freelancer dancer who has performed at venues, festivals and for art organisations of all sizes, locally and internationally. To complement her dance, she has a couple of ongoing side projects, including an Instagram account, @restingknitface. Unlike similar accounts, it simply documents her knitting and share her love of craft – she isn’t trying to sell anything.
Evangalista also runs a business, Each Day Designed, selling a calendar diary tailored for freelancers in the creative industries. “Freelancers often have ongoing projects, short notice jobs and a calendar year that doesn’t fit with traditional diaries,” she says. (The diary also includes journal pages, and space for special notes such as when to get grant applications in, arts festival dates for that year and so on.)
Evangelista was encouraged to start dance by her mum, who felt her daughter, as a young, shy girl of Asian descent, wouldn’t stand a chance growing up in suburban Perth unless she gained confidence. “I was very timid and my mum just knew I should try dance. When I was 18 I called her and remember telling her for the first time, ‘Mum, I think I want to actually do this, dance ... for a career’. My mother was shocked that this decision she made when I was so little, to enrol me into dance class, had led to my career. Dance is the love of my life.”
Both Currie-Richardson and Evangelista view dance as a vehicle for empowerment. For Currie-Richardson, it’s a way to connect to culture and a platform for him to act as a positive role model for younger Indigenous Australians. “My mum and dad instilled great pride in me, they have always been on the frontline for Indigenous rights,” he says.
For Evangelista: “Dance is something a lot of us participate in when we’re younger and really enjoy, and for some reason there’s this misconception that at a certain age, we should stop. We shouldn’t. You need to continue to dance … you will feel so much better for it.”
Dark Emu travels to Perth (August 2 to 5), Brisbane (August 24 to September 1) and Melbourne (September 6 to 16). See here for more info.
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