Dance that leaves its mark


Carriageworks, May 30

4.5 Stars

This program of three remarkable solos by associate artists from Marrugeku is bold and thought-provoking, sensitive and good to watch. It’s one to remember and revisit in your mind’s eye, not only for the visual content but the meaning behind it.

Broome’s Marrugeku is an intercultural company concerned with research as well as entertainment, the title of this presentation also being that of a continuing research project. Its focus on Indigenous knowledge systems is apparent in performance and the printed program information, which goes to the detail of naming the Aboriginal languages being spoken and sung.

Edward Lee Mulligan introduces us to the way of connecting to our environment and situation through the story of two dingoes and a billabong richly endowed with water lilies and fish in the Central Kimberley. The title, Ngarlimbah, means “you are as much of me as I am of you”.

With a video reinforcing his storytelling (part of Sohan Ariel Hayes’ collaboration), Mulligan talks, sings and dances to communicate. His movement style mingles familiar Aboriginal gestures with contemporary dance, which doesn’t always come out perfectly – yet this very imperfection adds poignancy to his piece, which is poetic, heartfelt and very moving.

Miranda Wheen is a fair-complexioned member of the company, and she has taken a character with her name from Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock for her solo, Miranda. Inspired by the final, initially unpublished, chapter of the book about the mysterious disappearance of some schoolgirls in 1900, Wheen tackles the huge topic of white Australia’s difficulties in coming to terms with its Indigenous past and present.

In camisole top and calf-length slip that reflect the era of the book, she portrays the fear and confusion of being lost and trying to find a way into a different culture.

Co-choreographed by the performer and Serge Aime Coulibaly – contemporary with an occasional ballet reference – this dancing is wild and amazing to watch on its way to an emotional conclusion. Then off comes the slip to reveal very short shorts and a 21st century character apparently unmoved by Australia’s First Nations past but eventually (I think) at least aware of and utterly bemused by it.

Miranda was an equally powerful piece and performance, even if its symbolic confusion sometimes extended to understanding its meaning.

Eric Avery also tackles black-and-white relations in Dancing with Strangers, a sophisticated solo co-choreographed with Koen Augustijnen. A double-sided coat reminiscent of the kangaroo skin cloak worn by Ken Wyatt to his swearing-in as Minister for Indigenous Australians the day before and, turned the other way out, a military greatcoat, set the scene for the performance conversation. Plus a violin – played live in classical and contemporary compositions as well as being used as a weapon – recorded and live songs, spoken words and very good contemporary movement.

A program note expresses Avery’s intentions and they were clearly demonstrated: “Reimagining black futures and pasts and what we can do to make these into new realities is necessary at this time.” The piece left us all with a challenging conclusion.

Many people were involved in this presentation, most notably Marrugeku’s co-artistic directors, Dalisa Pigram and Rachael Swain. The handsome set by Stephen Curtis – a wall with graceful cracks etched across it – clever lighting by Matthew Cox and sound design by Sam Serruys made strong contributions to an important production that should get wide exposure beyond this three-night Sydney season.