Burrbgaja Yalirra (Dancing Forward) is a triple bill produced by Broome-based dance company Marrugeku, which is committed to culturally informed contemporary dance. It opens with a production performed by the multitalented Edwin Mulligan, Ngarlimbah, which stands for a lifeguiding Aboriginal principle.
Mulligan stands before a large video backdrop featuring an animation of his own superb artwork: two intense-eyed dingoes to which he is spiritually connected. Later the video depicts a stream filled with water lilies in which swims a large fish. Composed and with quiet dignity, Mulligan relates stories about these videos. He dances, crouched, moving sideways and turning around with steps that knead the ground in patterns intrinsic to Aboriginal dance culture. It is ingeniously devised with expressive movement and compelling drama.
Eric Avery’s Dancing with Strangers is about colonisation. Avery has manic energy. He plays violin, sings, narrates and dances in a whirlwind of movement while wearing a reversible sleeveless coat to change perspective. One side is made up of pale animal skins, representing the owners of the land; the other, navy blue with silver buttoned-down lapels, represents the colonising sailors. Discarding the violin and using the bow as a spear, gun or whip, he matches his technical prowess with dramatically effective storytelling. Particularly powerful is a description of how his grandfather first sighted the mast of the tall ships rising out of the sea.
Miranda Wheen’s Miranda is based on Picnic at Hanging Rock. The idea is that, just as Miranda is lost, so too is modern Australia — unable to confront its dubious past and unsure how to proceed.
Wheen is slight of frame, dressed in white, with pale skin seemingly untouched by the sun — a contrast to the sturdy, brown bodies of Mulligan and Avery. She is supple and powerful and a master of choreographic perversity; one foot squirming towards the other, her body descending to the floor inch by inch, her joints at odd angles — each gesture mimicking the narrative thread of uncertainty and instability.
The three pieces were an intriguing amalgamation of exotic music, cultural storytelling and superb dance.