Beloved by those in the know, Australian label Aje went above and beyond bringing us covetable clothes with their latest collection, choosing to highlight that the cornerstone of this season’s pieces wasn’t the latest shade or cut, but rather the concept of impermanence. (After all, if we’ve learned nothing else this year, surely it’s that the only constant we can rely on is change.) Photographer Hannah Scott Stevenson was responsible for the striking images of Aje’s diverse models, most of whom are expert in areas outside of fashion. Some of our favourite images were those of Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Tyrel Dulvarie and Lillian Banks, and we were keen to know more. So, using impermanence as a launching pad, Tyrel and Lillian spoke candidly with us about their thoughts on transition, growth, and change, from both personal and political perspectives, and how, for each of them, being a dancer influences everything.

ON AGE

TYREL: I don’t believe that age determines what you can and can’t do.

In September I turned 27, which isn’t old at all, but there’s a big difference between now and being in my early twenties, for sure. After having some time off in August for surgery on both of my legs, I came back motivated, hungry, and determined. My mind, spirit, and body are feeling stronger than ever, and I believe I have added another ten years onto my career.

LILLIAN: The best part of being at the stage I’m in now is that I’m able to explore my options and am able to continue making mistakes.

I often think I’d like to go back to when I was younger to learn more about my culture. I was constantly surrounded by it, but I didn’t consciously take it all in and realise how important it is to my identity until I left Broome and moved to Sydney.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF BANGARRA’S WORK

LILLIAN: Bangarra Dance Theatre is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation which uses dance to share stories from more than 65,000 years of culture. For 31 years the Company has remained a clan of artists, each with proud Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander heritage. We dancers are ambassadors for our culture, sharing and exchanging with First Nations people across the world. Bangarra’s spirit is fed by our relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia. We create our works on Country, learning from and listening to the stories that our people need us to tell: stories that are embedded in the landscape. It is this unbreakable connection to land and people that make us unique and sees us performing on creek beds in remote communities one week, and in the Sydney Opera House or on the stages of Tokyo or Paris the next.

TYREL: It has been such an adventurous journey performing with Bangarra Dance Theatre, and getting to tell and share our indigenous stories from our own backyard for audiences here in Australia and those abroad.

Being a dancer with this company comes with a huge responsibility to carry and perform these stories each night, never having an off one where you don’t give it your all. We are busy all year round, rehearsing full-time on top of the travel and performance schedule. It can be hard to find stability, and more specifically it can be tough to live out of a suitcase, to miss out on family and friend’s events, and to not always be able to go back home to Cairns and Innisfail as much as I’d like.

One of the most gratifying things about my job, besides performing on stage, is going to small communities in regional or rural Australia to teach dance workshops. Seeing the kids, and sometimes even adults, just try something different that’s out of their comfort zone brings me much joy and hope. Through connecting with them, and getting them to use and explore their imaginations, hopefully we’re planting seeds for the future where they’re eager to continue that.

ON THE BLACK LIVES MATTER MOVEMENT

TYREL: The knowledge that black lives matter isn’t new to me or the company. The company has been around for three decades now, giving an insight into what indigenous people experience, told from a black point of view. The movement this year has helped me realise that some of my personal experiences have also happened to other people of colour, and that it’s not okay for us to be treated like that or caught up in certain situations. It has also shown me that there are people in my life who are uncomfortable with the movement, and helped me work out whether I continue to put up with their ignorance or get rid of their toxic energy.

LILLIAN: BLM has reminded me of how incredibly important the work we do is. Our work unravels political and social issues that have been amplified by this movement. We as black Australians carry a shared hurt and we have all experienced systemic racism. The movement has certainly shone light on the importance of having black men and females in leadership; diversity in leadership is a gateway to change. We need to be able to confront the difficult truths of the black experience. I am fortunate to be an ambassador for my culture on an international stage, so I will continue to educate and exchange with the next generation, and hope they’re given opportunities without discrimination.

ON STYLE AND SELF-EXPRESSION

LILLIAN: Imperfection is the best part of beauty. Being authentic to yourself and expressing your identity in any way, shape, or form should be celebrated more. Imperfection is interesting and makes us realise how diverse everyone and everything is!

I really value taking risks at this age, not only on stage but also with my appearance. I regularly colour my hair just depending on my mood. Especially during this pandemic when you have no control, it’s a nice feeling to be able to control something easily.

My piercings and tattoos express who I am and act as my shield from other people’s judgements. All of my tattoos are related to my family and culture, and they bring me closer to home even when I’m so far away, and remind me to stay grounded. They are a constant visual reminder to keep going.

TYREL: Over the last ten years, going from a teenager to becoming the man I am today, my fashion has changed and evolved numerous times.

I am influenced by art, film, music, people, land, and culture, and I’ve experimented and found what works for me and what doesn’t. Most of the time I like to dress for comfort, or for whatever activities I will be doing, but every now and then I’ll bring out a few risky pieces to flaunt. I usually like to dress beginning with my shoes and go from there.

ON REPRESENTATION

TYREL: From TV to magazines to the internet, beauty, and fashion, media has always been created in ways that made them feel like they were never ‘for me’. I feel like I’m beginning to see people of my race, gender, and style in these industries, but I don’t see it often enough yet to the point where it’s not a surprise to me whenever I do see it.

LILLIAN: Particularly on social media, I feel I’m seeing more people representing our culture in the fashion and beauty world, whether that’s with larger brands or just on personal accounts.

I’m thankful to have had indigenous models like Samantha Harris and Magnolia Maymuru around when I was growing up. No doubt the Black Lives Matter movement has educated some brands and given them the opportunity to be more diverse. It would be incredible to see more of my culture reflected in this way, but I’m optimistic this will happen.

ON THE JOYS OF IMPERMANENCE

LILLIAN: If you’ve got a strong sense of self and identity, impermanence shouldn’t be something to be frightened of.

As dancers we’re always aware that there’s a sense of impermanence inherent in our careers. Sure, there’s a sense of uncertainty, however I see it as opportunity. Every day we adapt and develop new characters and movement patterns, so dancers have an incredible ability to evolve.

TYREL: If you relate impermanence to the Japanese philosophy Wabi-Sabi, then, to my understanding, it is to see beauty in all things odd, non-symmetrical, and matured. It is about accepting the transience and imperfections of life. In my teen years and early twenties, I found it hard to accept my flaws and would try to cover up anything I didn’t find perfect about myself. I became my worst critic; it was a very unhealthy stage I went through. Thankfully I grew out of that and found empowerment. Today, I am happy and confident in the body I’m in, and I accept all the different parts of me, even on the days I’m not feeling 100%. I’ve come to know that if I don’t love me, how can I let anyone else love me?

Interviews and story by Zoe Briggs. Photographs by Hannah Scott-Stevenson for Aje. With thanks to Aje and Bangarra Dance Theatre.

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