Plenary 1 – Serpent and Water Stories: An International First Peoples Cultural Arts Exchange


Lily Shearer, Dr Liza-Mare Syron, Penny Couchie and Meg Paulin

Serpent and Water Stories: An International First Peoples Cultural Arts Exchange

Themes: Rituals of hospitality and accommodation’ Meetings – formats and procedures, Conversations – listening, speaking and turn-taking, Performing negotiation, seeking reconciliation, and Critical communitas – arts of assembling.

This Plenary is an open discussion on the transcultural processes and practices involved in creating a performance installation based on First Nation women’s serpent and water stories. The panel will be led by collaborating artists Lily Shearer and Dr Liza-Mare Syron (Moogahlin Performing Arts, Sydney, Australia) with First Nations artists Meg Paulin and Penny Couchie (Anmitaagzi, Nipissing First Nations, Ontario, Turtle Island – Canada). 

The Plenary will outline the background to this collaboration and include women’s stories about water from the Ngemba/Murrawarri (Barwon/Culgoa Rivers NSW Australia), Biripi of the two Rivers (Manning and Hastings Rivers NSW Australia), and Anishinaabe (Lake Nipissing, Turtle Island). The discussion will also include a conversation on facilitating and activating safe and open inter-tribal dialogue and artistic exchange employing First Nations and First Peoples of Australia cultural protocols for engaging with artists through a workshop process of land based activities, and creating a public impact performance installation for presentation through models of story weaving with communities. 

The Artists

Lily Shearer (Moogahlin)

 Lily is a proud citizen of the Murrawarri Republic (north-west NSW/south-east QLD) and Ngemba Nation, with over 30 years’ experience in First Peoples  Cultural Arts & Community Development, Arts Management and in Theatre and Performance making. Lily is a Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of Moogahlin Performing Arts based at Carriageworks in Redfern NSW.  A 2016 Ross Bower Australia Council Award recipient and 2019 Create NSW Arts Fellow, Shearer has been instrumental in the development of and creative support for First Peoples cultural arts and community development for over thirty five years. At Moogahlin Lily has worked as the producer on the Baiame’s Ngunnhu Festival, Yellamundie National First Peoples Playwriting Festival and The Weekend by Henrieta Baird. Co-Director/Curator of Fire Bucket, and Manuwi Jam Ya Murong (Footprints in the Sand) for the Blacktown Native Institute. Lily has also worked as a creative on Broken Glass, a site-based work presented at St Bartholomew’s Church & Cemetery that examines NSW women’s mourning practices.

Dr Liza-Mare Syron (Moogahlin)

Liza-Mare’s family is Biripi (Mid North Coast of NSW). She is a theatre maker and an award winning academic. Liza-Mare is the Co-Founder and a former Co-Artistic Director of Moogahlin Performing Arts. For Moogahlin Liza-Mare has produced many works including Koori Gras with Sydney Mardi Gras, The Visitors for Sydney Festival, and as a creative collaborator on Manuwi Jam Ya Murong (Footprints in the Sand) for the Blacktown Native Institute, and on Broken Glass, a site-based work presented at St Bartholomew’s Church & Cemetery that examines NSW women’s mourning practices. Liza-Mare has also directed The Weekend by Henrietta Baird for Sydney Festival, The Fox and The Freedom Fighters by Rhonda Dixon-Grosvenor and Nadeena Dixon for Performance Space, and Rainbows End by Jane Harrison for Darlinghurst Theatre. Liza-Mare was a workshop director for the Yellamundie Festival 2015-2017. Liza-Mare often lectures at NIDA and has worked as a dramaturge on NIDA student productions. She is widely published in the area of First Peoples cultural arts practice and has received the following Australasian Theatre and Performance Studies association awards, the 2005 Phillip Parsons Prize for Performance as Research, the 2010 Marlis Thiersch Prize for research excellence in an English-language article, and a 2015 Rob Jordon award citation for a book chapter.

Penny Couchie (Aanmitaagzi)

Penny is a dancer, actor, teacher, choreographer and community arts practitioner of Ojibway and Mohawk ancestry from Nipissing First Nation, Ontario. She holds an Honors BA in Aboriginal Studies and Drama from the University of Toronto and is a graduate of The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. Penny has performed as a dancer and theatre artist in principal roles both nationally and internationally. Her most recent choreography includes a workshop production of her newest work, When Will You Rage? performed at the Dancemakers Centre for Creation in Toronto, Manaabekwe, a co-choreography with Christine Friday O’Leary developed with Aanmitaagzi and youth from Temagami First Nation performed for the Temagami Gathering in Bear Island, Ontario, the Centre For Indigenous Theatre’s 2010, 2011 student showcase, Outta the Woods and Red Romance, directed by Muriel Miguel, performed at Factory Theatre, Toronto Ontario and A Bridge of One Hair for Jumblies Theatre performed at the Harbourfront Centre. She has guest taught at universities and colleges throughout Canada and the US. Penny is a founding member and Co-Artistic Director of Anmitaagzi, and co-owner of Big Medicine Studio.

Megan Lozicki Paulin

Megan Lozicki Paulin is a multi-disciplinary installation and performance artist. She was born and raised in North Bay, Ontario, and is from Mi’kmaq and Polish descent. She incorporates elements of visual art, archival materials, scientific research, sound, and projection while experimenting with site-specific art and community-based performance art. Megan is a core ensemble member for the company Aanmitaagzi Story Makers, has apprenticed under Master Tsimshian Carver Victor Reece and Sharon Jinkerson-Brass’ Big Sky Storytelling Society, and has been mentored for the past five years by choreographer Penny Couchie and multi-artist/actor Sid Bobb. Megan studied Fine Arts and Indigenous Studies both formally and non-formally and has enjoyed travelling and working with Indigenous youth. She is currently completing her Master’s of Environmental Studies at Nipissing University focusing on themes surrounding harvesting, art making, and storytelling techniques and their impacts on cultural identity, continuity and resurgence; resource protection and monitoring; and the transmission of traditional knowledge. 

Plenary 2 – Alice Nash

Alice Nash

Executive Director, Arts Investment
Australia Council for the Arts

Abstract. Alice Nash, the long-standing Executive Producer and Co-CEO of Back to Back Theatre from 2003 to 2020 and now the Executive Director, Arts Investment at the Australia Council for the Arts, stewarding all direct investments made by Council, speaks about how value was created in her time and in collaboration with others at Back to Back Theatre and how this links inextricably to her work supporting and promoting artistic practice and the value of public arts investment at Council. 

Alice provides concrete examples of the ways of thinking and working that she and her long-standing colleagues developed at Back to Back Theatre, including in collaboration with theatre academics, to support and in service to the exemplary artistic practice of artists with intellectual disabilities. This includes investing in time, space, creative investigation, and pursuing every possible avenue to increase reach and impact for audiences and community members and potential public and private investors. 

Alice posits and believes that public investment in the arts is crucial in supporting the development of civil society.

Portrait of Alice Nash, Executive Director of Arts Investment, Australia Council

Alice Nash is Executive Director of Arts Investment at the Australia Council for the Arts, stewarding all direct investments by Council, including strategic multi-year and project investments.

Prior to joining Council, across 18 years Alice was the Executive Producer & Co-CEO of Back to Back Theatre in the regional centre of Geelong. One of Australia’s most loved and critically acclaimed companies, and one of the most important cultural exporters, Back to Back Theatre company has at its heart an ensemble of six actors with intellectual disabilities who, in collaboration with others, create and perform all their works. The company also works extensively in community, education and screen and is a leading advocate nationally and internationally for exemplary disability arts practice.

Alice was a founding member and, from its inception through the next nine years, Deputy Chair of Theatre Network Australia, the Australian peak body for the small-to-medium theatre sector and independent performance artists. She has served on the Trust of the Geelong Performing Arts Centre and on the Victorian Government’s inaugural Creative State Advisory Board. She has contributed to numerous policy processes to support the development of robust practices for arts and disability across Australia.

Plenary 3 – Contemporary dance as collective gathering


Lizzie Thomson, Erin Brannigan, Rhiannon Newton, Latai Taumoepeau, Amaara Raheem


Contemporary dance as collective gathering

This Dance Plenary will take the form of an introduction by Latai Taumoepeau with her work In Continuum (2020, commissioned by Kaldor Projects), a choreographic participatory paper by Lizzie Thomson, followed by a group discussion led by UNSW dance researchers Rhiannon Newton, Lizzie Thomson, and Erin Brannigan, with guests Amaara Raheem and Latai Taumoepeau. The framework is the relationship between language and embodiment, written score and enactment, with a reference point being DANCE. Dance in this context is understood as a collective practice (in counterpoint to solo practice). In recent definitions of dance and choreography, a traditional understanding of dance and singularity has been set against a new emphasis on collectivity. A network of specificities, possibilities, and limitations produces the autonomy and singularity of the dance. In counterpoint, the special condition of dance as social, relational, and medial is articulated by American choreographer Jennifer Lacey; “dance is about people spending time together, thinking by behaving, and modify [sic] their thoughts by modifying their behavior: it is potentially a very powerful work.” This collective impulse in dance can then be extended to include not only the choreographers and dancers, but the audience and context. Frédéric Pouillaude links to this condition of dance in performance to the term contemporary. He describes contemporaneity as “a neutral simultaneity, a contingent coexistence … all that belongs to a particular time.” Contemporary dance as collective gathering. These performed scores, instructions, panel and open discussion consider this aspect of dance and choreography through text, action and dialogue.

Please note: This session involves audience participation. We will invite you to turn on your cameras and microphones together for a section of this collective online gathering. We will not be recording this session and would like to extend a request to all participants to refrain from recording.

Lizzie Thomson, Inside Inside (2019), Murray Art Museum Albury, Videographer Kim Cianco

In Continuum – 2020, commissioned by Kaldor Projects (10 mins)


open a clear space to be upright and soft in your body.
notice your breath and let your thoughts fall away freely.
take your focus to your navel.
imagine your umbilical cord inverted,
gently pulling you backwards,
making you walk or traverse a slow circle around yourself.
you are moving at 1mm per second.
recite aloud your genealogy.
say your name.
name your siblings.
name your parents and their siblings.
name your grandparents and so on. let them pass you.
complete a full circle to close.

do it (australia) | Kaldor Public Art Project 36. This project is the latest incarnation of do it, the longest-running and most far-reaching artist-led project in the world.Initiated by Hans Ulrich Obrist in 1993, the project asks artists to create simple instructions that generate an artwork, whether an object, a performance, an intervention, or something else entirely. 

The Choreographic Paper led by Lizzie Thomson: ‘Breathing into Corners’ (35 minutes)

Based loosely around an investigation into relations between language and embodiment, this workshop exists in written form and is delivered through spoken word to participants. It is structured in five parts, with each part offering a different entry into dance. The underlying frame of attention throughout the workshop is the question, ‘how do we attend to this dance?’. Underneath this frame, is the unspoken question, ‘what is this dance?’. We explore exercises that approach dance from a number of contemporary and ancient Western perspectives including ancient Greek beliefs about organs, the etymology of various words we use for body parts, Western binaries pertaining to space and bodies, and exploratory practices of listening through touch and memory. 

Group discussion 20mins lead by UNSW Dance researchers; Rhiannon Newton, Lizzie Thomson and Erin Brannigan with guests Latai Taumoepeau and Amaara Raheem.  Followed by open dialogue with online participants 20mins.


Lizzie Thomson is a choreographer, performer and researcher living and working on Gadigal and Wangal lands of the Eora Nation. Her choreographic work is driven by interests in affinities between dance and language, as well as in the political potency of practices of attention. Lizzie is currently undertaking a PhD in dance theory at the University of NSW. Her writing on dance has been published in books, journals and exhibition catalogues. Over the past 20 years, Lizzie has performed throughout Australia and Europe with many artists including Rosalind Crisp, Agatha Gothe-Snape, Mette Edvardsen and Jane McKernan.

Erin Brannigan is Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Performance at the University of New South Wales and works as a writer, academic and curator. 

Rhiannon Newton is an Australian dancer and choreographer who grew up on Dunghutti land (Crescent Head) in regional NSW. Her creative work and research draws attention to ecofeminist ways of understanding interdependence between bodies and the world. Rhiannon currently works from Gadigal land (Sydney) where she contributes to community and culture through creation, performance, collaboration, teaching and curation, leading the artist-run venue, ReadyMade Works, and the lecture-performance series, Talking Bodies.

Latai Taumoepeau makes live art. Her faivā (performance practice) is from her homelands, the Island Kingdom of Tonga and her birthplace Sydney, land of the Gadigal people. She mimicked, trained and un-learned dance, in multiple institutions of learning, starting with her village, a suburban church hall, the club and a university. Her body-centred performance practice of faivā centres Tongan philosophies of relational space and time; cross-pollinating ancient and everyday temporal practice to make visible the impact of climate crisis in the Pacific. She conducts urgent environmental movements and actions to create transformation in Oceania. Engaging in the socio-political landscape of Australia with sensibilities in race, class and the female body politic, she is committed to making minority communities visible in the frangipanni-less foreground. In the near future she will return to her ancestral home and continue the ultimate faivā (performing art) of sea voyaging and celestial navigation before she becomes an ancestor.

Amaara Raheem is a Sri Lankan born Australian grown dance-artist who lived in London fifteen years and is now based in Black Range (regional Victoria). Amaara is completing a practice-based PhD at School of Architecture & Urban Design, RMIT University. Her practice-research is in movement and words, how they meet, intersect, collide, run in parallel and inhabit particularly in relation to the built environment. Amaara works as a solo and collaborative artist. She’s currently working with UK choreographer Janine Harrington (winner of Bonnie Bird Choreographic Award, 2020) on a new work ‘Satelliser’, a collaborative, durational dance and conversational choreography made for galleries.