PuSh Blog

A night worth fighting for: dirtsong—A curatorial statement by Norman Armour

February 02, 2017

Every two years, I travel to Australia in February for the Australian Performing Arts Market (APAM). It’s a showcase for Australian work and artists. Other internationals, such as New Zealanders and Koreans and the odd Canadian or American agent too, turn to up to ply their trades. But for the most part, it’s focused on the Australian scene.

Almost four years ago, I have was fortunate enough to attend a performance in Brisbane, as part of APAM, of Black Arm Band’s dirtsong. Ever since, I have been attempting to make possible a performance of dirtsong in Vancouver. This February it will become a reality. There are so many, many ways in which this astonishing evening is a “fit” for PuSh. There are so many, many people and organizations who have come together to make it feasible.

Black Arm Band performs on stages and in community contexts across the globe as well as extensively across metropolitan, regional and remote Australia. In an international context, the group interrogates and promotes contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture through the creation of large-scale music theatre productions, installations and multimedia projects.

This inspiring multidisciplinary production celebrates and shares Aboriginal music’s contributions to the world, as well as showcasing an important Canadian Indigenous and non-Indigenous element. It’s the type of collaborative presentation, which encourages artist-to-artist and community-to-community exchange; a value that is at the core what the PuSh Festival stands for. Presenting contemporary Indigenous work has been a curatorial priority for the PuSh Festival for many years now. Among such presentations has been the work of Tanya Tagaq (Nanook of The North), Marie Clements (Long Road Forward), Cliff Cardinal (Huff), and Australia’s ILBIJERI (Jack Charles V. the Crown).

For dirtsong, PuSh is partnering with Full Circle First Nations Performance to ensure that strong local connections and exchanges can be brought together around the work. In the year of celebrating Canada’s sesquicentennial, dirtsong provides a window into other nations’ journeys and struggles to reconcile the history of their land and people. PuSh has also teamed with the Coastal Jazz for the first time ever, as a promotional partner for this production. Rainbow Robert, Coastal Jazz’s manager of artistic programming, also helped out with the selection of local musicians.


In the context of our new national efforts at inspiring conciliation, reconciliation and the vital process of healing, empowerment and self-determination for Indigenous peoples and communities, dirtsong arrives at an important point in our country’s history. Emerging from Australia’s own Truth and Reconciliation process, the production comes to Canada, as we begin to address many similar issues. Music can be a powerful medium for communication across cultural lines and landscapes; and indeed, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Report recognizes the importance of the arts in inspiring conversations about and actions for the future of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relationships.

Deline Briscoe Shellie Morris Lou Bennett - credit Chris Dew

Here in Vancouver, the members of Black Arm Band will be joined on stage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre by local musicians Meredith Bates (violin), Jon Bentley (saxophone), Chris Gestrin (piano), and guest vocalist Michelle St. John (Toronto).

I hope you can join us Saturday, February 4 at the theatre. It will be a night to remember, of things to fight for.

—Norman Armour
Artistic & Executive Director