They have roamed across the wilderness and through the thick rain forests of Australia for more than 50,000 years. But because they live so deep inland, Aborigines have been an obscure, relatively unexplored people.
Three years ago, Aussies Don Freeman and David Hudson founded Tjapukai Dance Theatre, a 17-person troupe of Aborigines that brings the music and dance of their ancient culture to the Western world.
"It's traditional and modern," Freeman says of the dance. "It's rhythmic and lots of stamping with the feet."
"I've traveled a fair bit around the world and seen a lot of cultural dance," chimes in Hudson, "but I've never seen anything like it. It's very much the use of the knees and very energetic."
"To accompany it we have hapsticks, which are two sticks they play off each other," says Freeman, "and we clap hands. Lots of voice noises, sounds. And we have an instrument called the didgeridoo that's a hollow tree that's been eaten out by termites. It's five feet long. When you blow on it, it produces a droning sound."
"It's probably the oldest wind instrument in the world," adds Hudson. "And it's indigenous to our country. It produces a sound that can only be described as eerie."
"It's an earth sound," says Freeman.
Then they say "Hold on," and there's a scurrying noise in the background of the conference telephone call.
"Okay, okay, are you ready?" asks one of them. They laugh mischievously.
And there is this noise. This deep, rumbling, droning noise. Kind of like a foghorn.
"That was a cardboard tube we found here," says Freeman, "but that's what it sounds like."
"Except the didgeridoo is lower," says Hudson.
The dance routines usually relate an Aborigine legend. The one the Tjapukai troupe is performing now is about Quinkan Devil spirits of the Barron River Valley and the mysterious disappearing "fire sticks."
"These spirits, among other things, steal the fire sticks," says Hudson, "and the tribes have to go and confront these spirits so they can win back the fire sticks and make fire."
"It's contemporary Aborigine comedy theater, I think," says Freeman.
The Tjapukai Dance Theatre will perform tomorrow and Tuesday night at 8 at Georgetown University's Gaston Hall. Tickets are $12 ($6 for students) and available at the door two hours prior to each performance. For information, call 202-687-4081.