How Rikki side-stepped a budding football career to tackle Bangarra lead role

Rikki Mason was destined to become an NRL player but after studying dance in Brisbane he joined the famed Bangarra Dance Theatre. What’s more, he will be one of the stars of Yuldea which is part of this year’s Brisbane Festival

Aug 10, 2023, updated Aug 10, 2023
Rikki Mason walked away from a promising football career to become a star with one of our leading dance companies. Image: Daniel Boud

Rikki Mason walked away from a promising football career to become a star with one of our leading dance companies. Image: Daniel Boud

Rikki Mason had the skill and the moves to be a professional rugby league player until he discovered dance in his late teens. He studied dance at the Australian Dance Performance Institute in Brisbane’s inner north, went on to perform with Brisbane City Youth Ballet and Queensland National Ballet.

And he strutted his stuff on TV in Everybody Dance Now in 212 and So You Think You Can Dance in 2014, the year he also got his dream job as a dancer.

“That’s when I joined Bangarra,” Rikki says as we chat ahead of this Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander company’s latest show.

Yuldea, choreographed by Bangarra’s new artistic director, Frances Rings, comes to the Playhouse at QPAC for Brisbane Festival from August 31 to September 9.

This latest tour is the world premiere of Frances Rings latest work in her inaugural season as Bangarra’s AD. Yuldea premiered at the Sydney Opera House before it began touring and that tour always includes Brisbane. Brisbane is special for Bangarra as founders, the Page brothers, southside locals, were the driving force behind the company for many years.

Stephen Page recently stepped down from the helm after 33 years with Bangarra. Frances Rings says coming to Brisbane is always special because of the Page family connection.

“Our success is due to the dedication and continuation of the work of the Page brothers,” Rings says. “Going back to Brisbane, seeing the local community, the family and other alumni is always special. “We have always had Queenslanders in the company and we have strong relationships in Brisbane.”

Rikki Mason, 33, has a soft spot for the Queensland capital which is where he learnt the basics for his future career. He’s from Inverell in New South Wales’s north but is a descendant of the Kullili people of South west Queensland and also has Danish, German and Irish heritage.

He played representative rugby league for the NSW Country Catholic Schools Team which would make you assume he’s a Blues supporter.

“No, I go for Queensland,” Mason says. “I go for the Broncos and support the Maroons in State of Origin. My goal was to play in the NRL.”

He is also adept at karate and was named Junior World Champion of Koshiki Karate in 2007.

He says his moves on stage probably owe more to his martial arts training than his footy.

“Martial arts is very similar to dance in the sense of its discipline,” Mason says. “Because of my martial arts training I was able to pick up dance pretty quickly. I’m now in my 12th year with Bangarra and it’s a great way of getting these great stories out to the public.

“We travelled with Fran our to her country and heard stories from community members and elders to understand the story of Yuldea.”

That story is a very personal one for Frances Rings. It explores the abrupt moment that traditional life collided with colonial expansion in South Australia’s Yuldea.

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Here an ancient water soak, Yuldi Kapi, connected important trading routes and dreaming stories that crossed through the site for millennia. Yuldi Kapi was instrumental in the construction of the Trans-Australian railway extending across the Nullarbor, joing the east coast and west. As a result of the industrial pressures placed on the permanent waterhole, in 1917 the water ran dry.

Now memories are scattered and the people of the region were displaced in the process.

Frances Rings a descendant of the Wirangu and Mirning Tribes of the west coast of South Australia has personal connections to this story.

“My grandfather was from the Nullarbor and my mother was born not far from Yuldea,” Rings says, “The whole myth is that the land was barren which is why it is so important for us to tell our stories.

“I feel a real sense of pride in being able to tell this story.”

Like all Bangarra productions this one is a feast for the senses and is brought to life with a stunning set design by Elizabeth Gadsby with costumes from multi-award-winning Jennifer Irwin, lighting by Karen Norris and it features original music by David Page Music fellow Leon Rodgers.

And in an exciting new collaboration the show features songs from multi-award-winning dup Electric Fields, an Aboriginal electronic music duo – vocalist Zaachariaha Fielding and keyboard player and producer Michael Ross. They combine modern electric-soul music with Aboriginal culture and sing in Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara and English.

“They are very contemporary and you have never heard music quite like this,” Frances Rings says.


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