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.