Yamaji Calisto

Margaret Whitehurst - Emu in the Sky

Yamaji Calisto is an intercultural musical theatre project that speaks of things of the sky and our need to understand it through observation and narrative interpretation. 

Yamaji Calisto is a project created by Aaron Carpenè, musicologist and musical director, in collaboration with the creative and community leadership of Charmaine Papertalk Green, the Italian stage director Stefano Vizioli, artistic director of the Teatro Verdi in Pisa and the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research at Curtin University in Western Australia.

Square Kilometre Array

The Australian Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Pathfinder is a radio telescope array located at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, situated at the Boolardy Station (about 800 kms north of Perth). The activities of the telescope include researching the creation and early evolution of the Universe, mapping black holes and exploring the origins of galaxies. Most recently the sensational  unveiling of the universe’s missing matter, a mystery that has baffled scientists for decades, was resolved thanks to the analysis of fast radio bursts at the Murchison site. 

The SKA is found in the heart of the Yamaji country and has been partners with the Wajarri Yamaji Traditional Owners since its beginning. In the respectful acknowledgement of the land ownership and to the Ancestors and the Yamaji Barna, many initiatives have arisen through an attentive interaction between the science and Yamaji community ranging from outback poetry exchanges to international art exhibitions in the case of the acclaimed “Shared Sky” exhibition that toured globally between 2014 and 2018. 

The Project

Yamaji Calisto is a project that brings together Yamaji language, song, visual and performing arts and Italian early opera with the support of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research at Curtin University. The principal objective is the realisation of a musical theatre event at the Murchison telescope site that unites Yamaji cultural expressions with the mid-17th century Venetian opera “La Calisto” composed by Francesco Cavalli to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini. The ancient Greek myth of Callisto concludes with the transformation of the hapless water nymph into the Ursa Major constellation and the libretto makes ample allusions to Galileo Galilei and the first historic use of the telescope as a scientific measuring instrument. This cultural package will connect with Yamaji stories related to the Emu in the Sky through various techniques including juxtaposition and superimposition of European and Yamaji expressions, and explorative paths in the creation of contemporary expressions of song, music and movement in a series of intercultural workshops.

Of particular significance a program led by award-winning poet, artist and leader of the Yamaji arts community, Charmaine Papertalk Green, is being designed to reclaim and regenerate aspects of cultural practices that were removed following colonialism including language, movement and social performative practices that can be integrated into the performance project Yamaji Calisto as well as leaving an enduring legacy for the community itself.            

Yamaji Calisto provides the opportunity for the very first time of a high-profile staging of Yamaji culture that represents the oldest continuous human culture on earth—65,000 years—to which the project partners acknowledge the Traditional Owners and ongoing custodians of the land and pay their respects to the Elders past, present and emerging.