• 12-year-old Anangu Pitjantjara girl, Abigale-Rose Tinker is performing a compelling contortion dance performance about her family's Stolen Generations story (Supplied)Source: Supplied
At 12-years-old, Abigale-Rose Tinker is telling her family's moving story through her dance and circus skills.
Sophie Verass

13 Nov 2017 - 4:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Nov 2017 - 4:34 PM

DISCLAIMER: This article discusses the Stolen Generations which some readers may find distressing. 

Abigale-Rose Tinker is a talented performer both, physically and as a storyteller. At just 12-years-old she is debuting her own original solo contortion routine, Ngintaka; The Perentie at the Stardust Circus Big Top as a part of the Australian Circus Festival

While circus has been long associated with sillyness and clowning around, Abi's performance is far from frivolous. Through her contemporary performance as the perentie lizard (Australia's largest monitor lizard), Abi tells her family's compelling story; of searching for their people, searching for their land and the spirit of her grandmother "Nana". Nana was of the Stolen Generations and passed away long before Abi was born.

Dancing as the perentie, Abi is looking from where she comes from; looking for her land and people. Along her journey, Ngintaka finds her grandmother's spirit and culture, and finds peace as the spirit carries with her for the rest of her years. 


Telling Nana's story

Abi told NITV she was inspired to do such a cultural routine after the Festival Director asked her to perform an Acknowledgement of Country with another Indigenous performer, Jilliy Riley. "I wanted to be a part of that and to tell my family's story."

Barbara, Abi's mum, told NITV, "My mother passed when I was 14. I was left with so many unanswered questions about her life and our culture. I know that she was a baby of the Stolen Generations and that's why she wasn't able to pass down the knowledges about our culture. This has been a heartache I have carried my whole life.  

"When I perform this dance, I do feel sadness for all that is lost, but I feel a sense of relief too, as it make me feel connected to my culture." 

With very limited information about her, [I'm] still trying to pass on that sense of pride. I traced us back to Anangu Pitjantjara lands, so we [Abi and I] wanted that connection."

Abi says that the dance focuses on 'loss' and how she, as a young Aboriginal woman, navigates her own sense of belonging.

"When I perform this dance, I do feel sadness for all that is lost, but I feel a sense of relief too, as it make me feel connected to my culture." 


Dance, contortion and lots and lots of training 

"I've been dancing since I was two," Abi says. "I'm not sure exactly what year it was when I started contortion, but one of my dance teachers saw me doing a couple of contortion tricks and they thought I should try it out."

Abi's trainer, Natalie Rodgers who has worked with her since she was a toddler, helped her explore this medium and took her to the Australian Contortion Festival for further learning and workshops. 

Abi trains for both, dance and contortion three days per week, approximately 11 hours. She will also do two days extra training at home for about two hours. "If I'm working on a new trick then I might spend an hour and half extra on it."

"In April, we sent in an audition tape for the Community Junior Competition and around June, I found out that I got in! I think we only started Ngintaka in August (last year). We put it together in about two rehersals, then we had like six rehearsals after that. And because I'm performing it tonight I just practiced this morning in the Big Top, in costume with the lights," she says. 

"Whether she chooses to stay in circus or perform in commerical dance, she will be an asset to the team she joins."

Natalie says that Abi is an incredibly talented and versatile performer,

"She has a very bright future. I know all teachers must say that about their students, but Abi is just so capitvating. She has something so special. Whether she chooses to stay in circus or perform in commerical dance, she will be an asset to the team she joins. I can see her equally in Bangarra, Stardust Circus or in a commerical hip hop film clip!"


The big Big Top performance

Natalie says that first and foremost, she wanted Abi's solo routine to be her own story.

"I did not want to appropriate their culture and this is their story to tell, not mine," she told NITV. "I had to find a way to help Abi and Barb tell their story and support Abi creatively, but without me telling her what to do."

"We did a lot of workshopping different ideas. Barb and I trawled the Internet to find out more about Pitjantjara culture and stories. We tried a few different animals - we had to find the right animal that 'fit' with Abs; the way she moves, her people and their family's story.

"Choreographically, Abi played a huge role as well. There is a whole section of hand-balancing that she came up with entirely by herself."

The mother, daughter and trainer trio found the song, 'Pitjantjara' by Frank Yamma. Natalie got in touch with his management to get permission for Abi to dance to it in honour of her Nana and culture, which they not only approved but sent their best wishes to Abi for her solo performance. 

Abi says she hopes that tonight's audience will understand how the effects of the Stolen Generations are still very much felt today. 

"They still cause some people sadness. [But] I hope that people get that you don't always have to be sad about it. You can find a way to bring peace to you and your family."

For Abi's mother Barbara, who lost her mother so young, says she is honoured and humbled that her daughter is sharing their story. 

"It's a tribute to our family, our culture and all who have suffered through the Stolen Generations."


Abi's performance Ngintaka - The Perentie will premiere tonight, Monday 13 November at 7.30pm at the Blacktown Showgrounds in Sydney. It will be performed again on Wednesday, 15 November. For information, see the Australian Circus Festival Facebook Page

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