Straight-talking dance by Marrugeku gets under the skin

The straight talking that gives Marrugeku’s new work its title gets a solid workout in the hands of Bhenji Ra. She demands a platform to strut on and special lighting, which Abdul-Rahman Abdullah’s marvellously economical set fortunately can provide.

You have some opinions about Ra? Well she has some about you and won’t take a backwards step in articulating them.

Ferociously alive and outrageously charismatic, she is not going to be locked away by the gender police. Ra’s tour de force underlines the most powerful quality of Marrugeku’s latest work. For all the sadness and anger at its heart, Jurrungu Ngan-ga burns with ferocious, life-affirming passion. It takes the faceless — jailed First Nations people, long-sequestered refugees, those living outside the norm — and gives them a face.

It tells their stories and makes them human.

The world feels a much more fascinating place with Ra in it, as it does with Luke Currie-Richardson. His alpha-male prowling and stun-gunrap about Australia are electrifying.

In an entirely different way so are the solos that bookend Jurrungu Ngan-ga, Emmanuel James Brown’s to open the show and Feras Shaheen’s to end it. They come from completely different cultures and their dance reflects their heritage, but they are joined by sorrow and loss. Both are unforgettable.

Jurrungu Ngan-ga is, for the most part, a work of great sophistication as it lays out its thesis using a potent mix of solo and group dance, spoken word, music and video.

The score, from a wide range of sources, gets the blood pumping with heavy beats and gets under the skin with disembodied voices telling each other who knows what.

Surveillance is built into Jurrungu Ngan-ga, with Abdullah’s set cunningly shifting ground between being a solid prison wall, CCTV screen, observation room and party central where everyone wants to catch someone’s eye.

Sometimes dance is just dance and the party atmosphere brings a degree of wild joy to a world where justifiable rage is more likely. For those who know their history there are references to past injustices but there’s humour and satire too. It’s a rich brew.

The wonderfully diverse set of nine performers devised the choreography with Marrugeku’s Dalisa Pigram and the individual physicality of each one shines while being in the service of a common cause.

Those who know their dance styles will delight in how eclectic yet cohesive Jurrungu Ngan-ga looks — with one exception.

The ballet moves, particularly in a late solo for Zachary Lopez, are somewhat puzzling. Are they are a comment on hierarchy and conformity? It’s not clear and not terribly useful in this context.

Lopez is a sensational mover who was earlier featured with much greater impact. Another solo near the end also seems to be repeating earlier points, as does some of the spoken word. The old writer’s adage, “kill your darlings”, comes to mind. Marrugeku nevertheless greatly touches the heart with Jurrungu Ngan-ga. There are some who would prefer people such as Behrouz Boochani, a consultant on the piece, to fadeaway.

The same with others who have been incarcerated capriciously or at length and with cruelty. Those names are summoned at one point by the cast in order that they not be forgotten, especially ones who didn’t survive. It’s a sobering moment.

And let’s not forget the names of the summoners: Ra, Currie-Richardson, Brown, Shaheen, Lopez, Czack (Ses) Bero, Chandler Connell, Issa el Assaad and Miranda Wheen. Spectacular, one and all.