Stamping ground

Jiří Kylián

The Australian Aboriginals are the only remaining people of a stone age culture left undisturbed by the accident of geography for some 50.000 years. The first intrusion upon them began little more than two hundred years ago. And even since then geography has helped to preserve much of their way of life, because their vast continent offered an almost limitless retreat. So, for the anthropologist they hold a key to our distant past. And for the dancer too, because their understanding of the infinitely wide world in which they lived was always most potently expressed in dance of unique significance.


That dance, which is at the centre of their life, and in which every gradation of movement had a descriptive and intended meaning, is now in decline. But it may still be glimpsed in the reserved areas of the country where trival life continues. Kylián says he has always had “a particular admiration for aboriginal dance, because of its beauty, reality, expressiveness and importance in life and society”. And in 1980, he was invited to a gathering called by the tribes in the remaining tribal lands of Northern Australia, the purpose of which was to record whatever has remained of it before it will be lost in the inevitable social changes of the twenty-first century. This work is one of the consequences of that visit and of his opportunity to study the extraordinary techniques of aboriginal dance. Kylián makes no attempt here to reproduce the rites of this dance.

This indeed would not be tolerated because the dance itself is regarded as a personal possession of the dancer, which, if used by another, would be both theft and sacrilege. Instead, he has attempted to devise a new vocabulary of his own in parallel with their concepts. Stamping Ground was developed in close collaboration with each individual dancer, making use of their specific personalities and their instincts in relation to time, space and to each other. “The dancers”, Kylián says, “should discover and materialize with a touch of self-mockery, the animal within themselves.”