UnmissableVan Badham, The Guardian
An intensely personal exploration of identityJordan Beth Vincent, The Age
Gudirr Gudirr is a truly timely work that should be seen widelyVirginia Baxter, RealTime Arts
Gudirr Gudirr lights a path from broken past to fragile present, and on to a future still in the making.
Gudirr Gudirr calls a warning, the guwayi bird calls when the tide is turning — to miss the call is to drown. An intimate solo dance and video work performed by Dalisa Pigram, daughter of Broome. By turns hesitant, restless, resilient and angry, Gudirr Gudirr lights a path from a broken past through a fragile present and on to a future still in the making.
The production considers the legacy of Australia’s history for Aboriginal people in northwest Australia today and asks: what does it take to decolonise Aboriginal people’s minds, to unlock doors and to face cultural change? Gudirr Gudirr calls a warning to a community facing massive industrialisation on traditional lands, loss of language and major gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous wellbeing. Drawing on a physicality born of Pigram’s Asian–Indigenous identity, and in a unique collaboration with Belgian choreographer Koen Augustijnen and visual artist Vernon Ah Kee, Pigram builds a dance language to capture this moment in time for her people.
Concept, performer & co-choreographer
Director & co-choreographer
Set designer & video artist
Vernon Ah Kee
Composer & sound designer
Singer & songwriter
Concept & cultural adviser
Dramaturg & creative producer
Joey Ruigrok Van Der Werven
The Globe and Mail
8 May 2015
The multicultural cemeteries of the town of Broome, Western Australia, are filled with dead pearl divers. Many of the buried are indigenous people who were forced into the work as slaves in the late 19th century and the migrant workers who replaced them once slavery was abolished. In the early 20th century, Broome was exempt from Australia’s white-only immigration policy so that the pearl industry could flourish.
This history forms some of the backdrop for Gudirr Gudirr, a one-woman dance-theatre piece performed, conceptualized and choreographed by Dalisa Pigram, co-artistic director of Australia’s Marrugeku Theatre. Using video art designed by Vernon Ah Kee (and co choreographed by Koen Augustijnen of Belgium’s Les Ballets C de la B), the work is a gripping hour-long exploration of the aboriginal people of northwest Australia and the region’s unique multiculturalism. Through movement, text, narrative and film, Pigram tells a multilayered story about how historical racism, persecution and violence have turned into contemporary racism, persecution and violence – compounded by the threat of cultural erasure and environmental devastation.
I can’t overstate the impact and importance of this piece. In one sense, it’s an urgent invective on how systemic oppression has left Australian aboriginal communities grappling with social and economic injustice. There are sequences of pure rage when, for example, Pigram considers teen suicide rates and how the wait for change feels never-ending. But the piece is also a celebration of the strange phenomenon of “identity” itself, framed through the lens of multiculturalism. A racist report from 1928 on mixed-marriages between aboriginals and Asian migrants is juxtaposed with a beautiful montage of the people of Broome. A series of young and old faces are projected over the stage, reifying the region’s unique history. The people seem to be captured apolitically, too busy being themselves to be indignant.
But the piece’s chief emotional power comes from Pigram’s dancing. She’s a strong, utterly convincing performer. Her movement draws on Malaysian martial arts (Silat), gymnastics and traditional motifs (her background is Asian-Indigenous). While there are hints of narration and characterization in the actual steps (at one point, Pigram becomes a disoriented youth; at another, she seems to be dancing in a nightclub), the choreography is most effective in its abstract ability to express feeling. Pigram has an innate, physical understanding of contrast and conflict. There are flourishes of the acrobatic – but Pigram might be most compelling in her minutiae. She finds drama in the delicate, birdlike isolations of her neck and the jointed details of her robotic arm chops.
The starkness of desert and sea are conjured through the use of sound and light. A long vertical net suspends from the rafters and is used to delineate the empty space. Oceanic projections bubble and crest in the background as Pigram climbs to the net’s top, as though surfacing from a dangerous dive. All this happens to an alternately haunting and heartening score by Sam Serruys and Stephen Pigram.
Some of the narrative vignettes are stronger than others. I was gripped by a sequence that unravelled under the heading “the time is now,” in which Pigram compares socio-economic problems and systemic persecution of the past and present. In another, a diatribe on injustice and life’s meaninglessness turns into a hilarious (but poignant) outburst of uncontrollable swearing. I was a little less clear on the point of a satirical flight-attendant-style speech and had trouble decoding the relevance of some images on film. But even when clarity wavered a little, the emotional coherence was sustained.
Gudirr Gudirr has toured throughout Australia and Europe, but its presentation at World Stage marks its North American premiere. The piece’s relevance to Canadian audiences is obvious – it’s impossible to watch and not consider how slowly and ineffectively change and justice are being granted to our First Nations communities at home.
19 January 2014
Conceived, performed and co-choreographed by Marrugeku’s Co-Artistic Director, Dalisa Pigram, Gudirr Gudirr is an extraordinary work from an artist at the peak of her craft and intellectual confidence. Pigram’s solo dance work is an articulate and thoroughly interrogated exploration of her politicised identity as an Aboriginal Australian of diverse cultural heritage. Working with Belgian choreographer Koen Augustijnen’s “task-based” choreography, and artist Vernon Ah Kee as her set/video designer, her political narrative unfolds in powerful projected text and imagery and in movement inspired by and taken from Aboriginal dance, contemporary western dance, gymnastics and the Malaysian martial art, Silat.
Pigram hails from Broome, a remote corner of Australia where a pearling industry brought waves of settlement from Malaysian and other Asian communities at the turn of the century. The show begins with some projected text compiled from the report of a government inspector who visited the township in 1928, expressing concern about the sexual and domestic interrelations of the “Asiatic” migrants with the local Aboriginal population.
The historical report pulls no punches in its expression of systemic racism, concluding the “quadroon” offspring of these relationships may in fact breed a more “efficient and effective” domestic servant. As evidence of historical racism it’s confronting – but Pigram pulls no punches herself; when a monologue reveals her own great grandmother was legally designated “a prostitute” for loving the Malaysian man who fathered her children, the legacy of institutionalised hate is exposed at its most personal and profoundly affecting.
It is but one revelation among many. Amongst its sophisticated layers of physical and visual imagery, Pigram also incorporates speech in her piece. While affecting postures of warriors and animals, vulnerable children and disoriented youth, she interweaves speech from traditional languages with local dialects and hilarious moments of satirical comedy. Her own verbal polemic – in one sequence, delivered as she rolls across the floor – is as politically astute and powerful as any heard in Australian public discourse for decades.
Another section, saturated with swear words projected on a screen, is chilling for the proximity of fury to frustration; she attacks colonialism’s remnants in white culture as passionately as she fights for “de-colonisation of the mind” in black culture. With its diverse dance influences channelled into the focused metaphor of Pigram as the embodiment of Broome’s cultural inheritance, Gudirr Gudirr is at its heart both a threnody for a genocide and a stirring affirmation of black survival. Unmissable.
19 January 2014
Dalisa Pigram is an enchanting dancer and a passionate advocate for life in Australia’s northwest. In Gudirr Gudirr she weaves a memorable solo from themes relating to the area’s indigenous history, polyglot population, environmental beauties and present-day challenges. There are plenty of the latter.
The sound of a coastal bird from Pigram’s home country, the Kimberley, gives her work its name. At the start of the piece Pigram luxuriates in memories of gathering fish – but not too many! – and learning from her family. Simple pleasures give way to a passionate recitation of former wrongs and current woes. There may be no more Aboriginal men with cruelly heavy chains around their necks or girls chosen for domestic work on the basis of skin tone, but new issues such as mining, violence and suicide take their toll. Gains have been made, Pigram says, but danger lies in being seduced by them.
Simultaneously wiry and elastic, Pigram seamlessly incorporates shapes from indigenous dance, martial arts, animal imagery, gymnastics, the nightclub and the circus for a wholly individual effect. When she speaks in her traditional language, Yawuru, it becomes a liquid element in Sam Serruys’s score, which also includes songs from Stephen Pigram. When she rails against contemporary ills, the repeated use of the most common four-letter word turns into a kind of bird sound.
There is the occasional bumpy moment when Pigram rushes a text or a filmed element is difficult to identify, but Gudirr Gudirr rarely loses its grip. Particularly effective is how subtly Pigram alters her movement to morph from serene confidence to uncertainty and anguish. She also takes to the air via a long ribbon of net that lets her swing free or entangles her. The net is both tradition and snare.
Pigram, who is co-artistic director of Marrugeku, worked on Guddir Gudirr with Koen Augustijnen, formerly with celebrated Belgian company Les Ballets C de la B. He is credited as director and co-choreographer and together he and Pigram have made a 55-minute work overflowing with rich images and ideas.
When Dalisa Pigram takes a well-earned bow at the end of gudirr gudirr, inviting a line of collaborators to join her, we are suddenly aware of her diminutive stature.
For a solo, this is one BIG performance. Accompanied by video projected onto a corrugated iron wall upstage and a long fishing net suspended from the ceiling, Pigram otherwise fills the space for 60 minutes with her intense presence. Gudirr Gudirr (the words call a warning) is a powerful commentary on life in multi-racial Australia told through the experience of a dancer who has a Malay father and Aboriginal mother and lives and works in the country’s north-west. From time to time, the video reminds us of the locale with at once calming and unsettling images of the place and its people.
In a projection of the text, we’re reminded once more of Australia’s racist history. In 1928 an official informs A. O. Neville, Chief Protector of Aboriginals in Western Australia (1875-1954) that quarter-caste Indigenous people (“quadroons”) will be “useful in replacing Aboriginals” as labour for the industries of the north. For this reason, Broome is exempted from the odious White Australia Policy. Pigram appears in fighting stance then moves on to describe in a mix of Yawuru language, Aboriginal English and vivid gesture a joyous experience of fishing with her family that turns dangerous as they overfill their net and are threatened by a crocodile. Harvesting only what’s needed is just one of the survival lessons learned.
From exuberant recreation, Pigram shifts deftly through a parodic airline steward sequence to a series of multi-faceted choreographies variously expressing frustration, resistance, despair, forbearance and celebration. Contained within a strong and compact body her dance mixes Malaysian martial manoeuvres (Silat)—anchored by a low centre of gravity with extended leg and expressive arms—with stances we have come to know from Indigenous dance—solidly grounded feet, torso and hips suddenly and sharply changing plane and aspect, references to animal movement. Moving easily between these forms—a martial stance is enlivened with a quick, animal flick of the wrist—Pigram displays a light-footed grace and a sharp-eyed focus that holds us keenly on her wavelength.
At other times she is all muscle and strength deploying the acrobatic skills that are part of Marrugeku’s house style. The suspended net is used to map the space in myriad ways. At one point Pigram deploys it as tissu apparatus, hooking her feet into its threads, executing a series of difficult staccato moves through the fabric to end hanging upside down like the day’s haul. Though we’ve seen it so often, we still catch our breath as she falls, relaxing as she playfully swings from the net, sizing us up.
In the program notes, Pigram describes the generation of these shifting gestures and personas as resulting in part from the ‘task-based process’ she embarked on with director and co-choreographer Koen Augustijnen—a regular collaborator on Marrugeku projects who has also worked with Alain Platel’s Les ballets c de la b—and which together they named “The Tide is Turning.” Says Pigram: “I explore the point in my memory where it felt like my community was changing. I interpret this time through a range of ‘movement channels’ inspired by different characters. Following the task to ‘change the channels,’ I am introducing myself, and others from my community, from the inside out. The audience may see what’s inside of me. They may see the issues that I have that exist as inspirations and concerns through the movement of these characters until they are left with just a person before them, with a story.”
Disoriented movement matches angry verbiage as Pigram proselytises from the stage about the pressing need for action on Indigenous issues and follows up with a funny and expletive filled outburst, complete with waving arms, head-banging and huge projected FUCKEN text, in sheer frustration at the time it’s taking for justice and fairness to prevail. Mood shifts again as we witness video of young Indigenous boys fighting one another—images of themselves that these boys display proudly on Facebook. Pigram is still, facing us directly, silently wringing her hands, and then slapping her own face. In one month alone in 2010, seven young people in Pigram’s community killed themselves, the youngest 13 years old.
The work concludes with projected portraits of relatives and friends who form an important part of Pigram’s community, women and children, elders including a white haired man we’ve seen earlier dancing slowly on the screen, and finally the familiar bearded countenance of cultural advisor on this and other Marrugeku projects, Patrick Dodson. Stephen Pigram’s song provides soothing accompaniment as Dalisa Pigram repeats a sequence of calming hand gestures seen earlier on screen.
Gudirr Gudirr is a truly timely work that should be seen widely. Showing all the signs of careful collaboration from a gifted team it conveys complex experience in the shape of Dalisa Pigram who shows us in the sharply shifting facets of her performance the rich and troubled life of her community and of this country.
Sydney Morning Herald
21 January 2014
Dalisa Pigram is a powerful solo performer with a great deal to communicate through words and images as well as movement. Brought up in Broome with ancestors from diverse cultures, she reflects on the town’s multicultural character and problems in a piece that is mostly sombre and often angry.
Gudirr Gudirr begins with onscreen quotes from a 1928 government report sickeningly lacking in humanity and understanding. The conclusion seems to be asking how much has changed.
On the happier side, we see a girl fishing with her father but catching more than they could carry back against the incoming tide – a lesson learned about greed, taking only what you need.
We hear about that in Kriol as well as observing it through movement whose style, naturalistic to stylised, illustrates Pigram’s background. It includes a conspicuous martial arts influence, feisty yet graceful: dramatic squats and deep lunges with a mix of strong and soft upper body, arm and hand gestures.
It’s a great combination, co-choreographed by Pigram and Koen Augustijnen, and as Gudirr Gudirr continues, the intensity of anxiety about the future of indigenous people, the younger generation in particular, is eloquently expressed in dance as well as some disturbing video.
For me, Pigram’s amplified listing of terrible white settler deeds was a lecture I would have preferred in a more subtle artistic form. But having stood beside an Australian family in a museum last year as they were shocked by a familiar (to me) photograph of Aboriginal people lined up in chains, I have to admit that not everyone knows about Australia’s unpleasant past. So maybe it has to be this direct. Either way, the impact of the production by the Broome group Marrugeku, with an impressive team of technical and creative contributors, is resounding.
The Age Melbourne
Jordan Beth Vincent
The work created by Broome-based company Marrugeku is noteworthy, not only because it presents the unique artistic voice of performer Dalisa Pigram, but because it is an excellent piece of dance theatre.
Pigram explores the different facets of her Asian-indigenous heritage, highlighting the way her ancestry has shaped her sense of self, while still demanding to be seen as more than just the sum of her parts. Through spoken word, projection and a range of different kinds of movement, Pigram explores aspects of her life in Broome, her anger at the careless industrialisation of land and her despair for future generations.
The latter issue is powerfully explored through a video depicting a street brawl between young men, filmed for Facebook by several different mobile phones.
Here, as in many other moments of this work, Gudirr Gudirr manages to be both an intensely personal exploration of identity as well as a kind of universal commentary on where we are as a larger society.
The notion of sustainability – for ecology, culture and even for Pigram herself – is the theme that underpins this work. Throughout the work, Pigram retreats to a large fishing net, which hangs from the ceiling, giving her something to resist against, scale to the top of or swing from.
..this work has real power both in its relevance and in its rawness.
Gudirr Gudirr was first presented at Arts House in Melbourne as part of Dance Massive
12–16 March 2013
The Arts Centre, Broome Senior High School
Fitzroy Valley District High School
Mowanjum Art and Culture Centre
Fishtrap Theatre, Mandurah Performing Arts Centre
In collaboration with Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA
7–9 July 2015
6-9 May 2015
Regional Arts Summit: Arts and Edges
17 Oct 2014
Waan Dance Festival
Noumea, New Caledonia
4-6 Sept 2014
Brown’s Mart Theatre
22–24 August 2014
5-6 July 2014
2-3 July 2014
Grand Theatre De Luxembourg
25 June 2014
World Theatre Festival
20–22 February 2014
15-16 February 2014
13 February 2014
5 February 2014
16–19 January 2014
30-31 October 2013
23 October 2013
Shinju Matsuri Festival
Pigram Garden Theatre
16-19 September 2013
Gudirr Gudirr was co-commissioned by the City of Melbourne through Arts House, Theater Im Pfalzbau, Ludwigshafen (Germany) and Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg.
Gudirr Gudirr was funded by the Australia Council, the Western Australian Department of Culture and the Arts and the Shire of Broome, Western Australia.