Ensemble Dutala

Since 2020

Ensemble Dutala is Australia’s first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander chamber ensemble, currently consisting of nine musicians from Perth, Sydney, Moree, Mildura and Melbourne representing Yorta Yorta, Noongar, Kala Kawa Ya, Kiwai, Motu, Lardil and Yangkaal language groups. The ensemble formed in 2020 as an initiative of Short Black Opera (SBO), the national not-for-profit opera company founded ten years prior by Yorta Yorta woman, soprano, composer, educator and performing arts leader Deborah Cheetham AO.

Dutala (meaning star-filled sky in Yorta Yorta, Deborah’s grandmother’s language) grew out of SBO’s One Day in January program: an ongoing initiative bringing artists together online and in Melbourne for a training intensive in the days leading up to January 26. Its purpose, according to Deborah, ‘is to create a culturally empowering environment where First Nations orchestral musicians thrive, while at the same time creating a pathway to careers in orchestral music.’

Ensemble Dutala has performed with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Victoria and the Dhungala Children’s Choir and has collaborated with contemporary musicians Bumpy and Alice Skye in venues and festivals such as the Melbourne Recital Centre and
the Yaluk-ut Weelam Ngargee Festival. The group’s current members are Director Aaron Wyatt (violin/viola), Allara Briggs-Pattison (double bass), Preston Clifton (cello), Baden Hitchcock (violin), Jess Hitchcock (bassoon/piano), Maya Hodge (violin), Rosie Savage (French horn), Zeena Tesoriero (violin) and Jackson Worley (cello).

In response to the idea of making space, Ensemble Dutala have created a film and score that speaks to the distance between the players, the way music and culture bonds the members to one another, connection to place and Country, and the power of storytelling through performance. Titled Our Place, it features Allara Briggs-Pattison, Deborah Cheetham, Preston Clifton, Maya Hodge, Rosie Savage, Jackson Worley and Aaron Wyatt.

Our Place is a multimedia, electroacoustic work that blends the instrumental timbres of the Ensemble with an audio track built from layered, environmental sounds. The sounds have been collected, alongside accompanying video footage, by members of the Ensemble.

They are drawn from the lands where the musicians come from, from the lands where they find themselves now, and from places that are significant to them. Waves crash. A brook babbles through temperate rainforest. A chorus of birds breaks into song. Cicadas chirp. Over these, the graphic, animated notation score composed by Director Aaron Wyatt invites the Ensemble to create a slowly evolving soundscape that responds to this natural world. Long, sustained tones with subtly shifting timbres give way to the occasional glimpse of melody as the interplay between Ensemble and nature gradually progresses.

‘Ensemble Dutala’s purpose right now in coming together, is to share each other’s experience and feel like we’re not so alone and isolated. Ensemble Dutala is important as a beacon for any young First Nations musician.’

—Deborah Cheetham AO, Artistic Director, Short Black Opera

Exhibited in Collective Movements:

Our Place 2022
5-channel video with stereo sound; 20 minutes

Director: Aaron Wyatt
Cinematography: Marleena Forward
Technical support: Liam Hennebry and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Editing: Aaron Wyatt and Liam Hennebry
Colour grading: Liam Hennebry
Produced by: Short Black Opera
Production Manager: Matthew Schroeders
Audio engineering: Duncan Yardley
Performers: Allara Briggs-Pattison, Deborah Cheetham, Preston Clifton, Maya Hodge, Rosie Savage, Jackson Worley and Aaron Wyatt
Venue courtesy of ABC (Iwaki Auditorium)

Courtesy of Short Black Opera