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 Gudirr 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.