Choreographer Yolanda Brown said translating Bruce Pascoe's Indigenous history book Dark Emu into a performable work for Bangarra Dance Theatre was a challenge.
But, she said, "The human body can transcend form."
Brown, a descendant of the Bidjara Clan of the Kunja Nation in Central Queensland with French and Celtic ancestry, worked with Daniel Riley and Bangarra's artistic director, Stephen Page to create Dark Emu. It will be her second choreographic work for the company.
"The human connection with the land with the spiritual and with the elements is the heartbeat of the work," she said.
This thematic approach to Pascoe's book debunking the hunter-gatherer myth about Indigenous people would help take the audience on an emotional journey, she said, as well as providing information about the land practices that occurred before colonisation through the three choreographers' work.
"We all came together for the opening scene," Brown said. She, Page and Riley then worked with different groups of dancers on individual sections but were able to make sure their styles blended effectively.
One of Brown's was Kangaroo Grass, inspired by the movements of the grasses and their different textures at different depending on the weather and the elements.
She also choreographed Bowls of Mourning.
"It's a work inspired by the gypsum caps that were worn by women who were in mourning," she said.
"They were worn for anything between six weeks and six months and could weigh up to 10 kilograms."
She said the gypsum represented the weight of grief the women carried. The variations in time and weight depended on how close the individual woman's connection was to who or what was being mourned and the caps could have their weight increased over time.
"They were eventually removed in a ceremony," she said.
"The taking-off ceremony was like the lifting of the weight of grief off your shoulders."
Brown studied dance at the Queensland University of Technology and joined Bangarra shortly afterwards, in 1999. She was a dancer with the company until 2015 and also was associate director and choreographer on I Am Eora for the Sydney Festival in 2012 and her first work with Bangarra, Imprint for Dance Clan 3 in 2013.
Dark Emu is on at the Canberra Theatre on Friday at 7.30pm and Saturday at 1.30pm and 7.30pm. canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 62752700.