David Bowie's 'Lets Dance' New First Nations Sound Art Installation

Rebecca Varidel
1st Oct 2019

Unusual for its time, 1983 music video David Bowie’s Let’s Dance was unapologetically political – tackling racism, dispossession, forced labour and British nuclear testing. Urban Theatre Projects’ next major artwork installation Momentum uses Let’s Dance as a pivotal point to examine the impact of representations of First Nations peoples in global pop culture. Bowie’s music video is partly set on Sydney Harbour, shot from the northern foreshore into the eye of the waterway around what is now Barangaroo.

Momentum presented in Blak Box at Barangaroo this 1 - 17 November delivers a new deep listening experience exploring First Nations stories. TICKETS ON SALE NOW >> urbantheatre.com.au/momentum

In the artwork, the voices of First Nations vision-makers, artists and thinkers speculate on the meaning and cultural impact of this seminal moment in music history. The installation pivots on the idea that the past has not passed and uses the 1983 music video for David Bowie’s Let’s Dance as a starting point.

The story that drives Momentum is not the narrative of Let’s Dance, but the reverberant effect of the film’s imagery. In four minutes, the film tracks from the spectacular Warrumbungle Range on Kamilaroi country to the heart of Gadigal land around Sydney Harbour. With director David Mallet, David Bowie alters our perspective to put the two key Aboriginal actors centre stage, driving the narrative. This subtle but far-reaching editorial decision recast Aboriginal people from object to subject - quite possibly for the first time in global visual culture.

Momentum asks a series of questions. Why did it take an outsider like Bowie to expose the colonial legacies of racism, dispossession, domestic slavery and the British nuclear tests? If we dance, are we distracted? Can a four-minute music video really do anything? Broadly, have we lost momentum?

Presented by Urban Theatre Projects, the artwork is a collaboration with multiple artists and writers. Curated by Daniel Browning, it includes music by composer Eric Avery, spine-tingling vocals by Ursula Yovich, a suite of poems and spoken word by emerging new writers, poet and literary editor Evelyn Araluen and spoken word artist, Lorna Munro, legal professor and radio broadcaster Larissa Behrendt, as well as leading arts practitioners Wesley Enoch and visual artist Vernon Ah Kee. 

“Oddly enough this is a sound work about the power of imagery. In the case of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance it’s about the meaning we find as First Nations people in those few short minutes – when someone as visionary and influential as Bowie truly saw us. Personally, I’ll never forget the impact of that moment when I saw blackfellas represented as we really are - as beautiful, strong and empowered cultural beings living on the most storied continent on earth.” Daniel Browning, Urban Theatre Projects, Momentum Curator


CREATIVE TEAM Curator: Daniel Browning Architect: Kevin O’Brien Lighting Designer: Karen Norris Producer: Travis De Vries Lead Builder: David Hawkes

CONTIBUTING ARTISTS Eric Avery (Ngiyampaa/Yuin/Gumbayngirr) Composer Troy Russell (Birrpai/Kamilaroi) Composer Ursula Yovich (An Barra Clan, Burarra/Serbian) Vocalist Joel Davison (Gadigal/Dhunghutti) Wesley Enoch (Nunukul/Ngugi) Vernon Ah Kee (Kuku Yalanji/Waanji/Yidinji/Gugu Yimithirr) Larissa Behrendt (Euahlayi) Lorna Munro (Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi) Evelyn Araluen (Bundjalung) Plus more to be announced.