Mentored artists make invigorating dance

18 May 2023

Marrugeku’s Burrbgaja Yalirra 2 is a triple bill of dance that’s a must-see… if you can get a ticket, writes Zali Morgan.

Burrbgaja Yalirra 2, Marrugeku
PICA Performance Space, 18 May 2023

Deep diving into history, Marrugeku’s Burrbgaja Yalirra 2 (Dancing Forwards 2) explores reflections of ancient time, survival and cultural adaptions.

As the name suggests, the triple bill of new works is the second iteration of a program designed by the Broome-based Indigenous intercultural dance theatre company to mentor emerging leaders in community and culturally informed contemporary dance. It’s devised and directed by Marrugeku’s co-artistic directors Yawuru/Bardi choreographer Dalisa Pigram and Anglo Pākehā director Rachael Swain.

Though the three works are very different in terms of story, character and theme they are connected by Nicolas Molé’s set of soft, sculptural trees, which cleverly morph to suit each story.

In the first work No New Gods – created by Filipinx performance artist Bhenji Ra with Javanese-Australian choreographer Melanie Lane and performed by Ra – the sculptures are mangrove-like, eerie. Leading the audience through stories of the Philippine archipelago, Ra’s stance is one of resistance and power.

A dancer in Burrbgaja Yalirra 2, creeps, animal like, on all fours, on a dimly lit stage.
Bhenji Ra seems to be summoning a higher being in ‘No New Gods’. Photo: Emma Fishwick

Primal in fur, Ra whirls two sticks, aggressive yet graceful. Melting in and out of the floor, she seems to be summoning a higher being. Strong, athletic, intentional and deeply connected to her work, Ra makes us feel our fears. She leaves us with her voice echoing a poetic, dystopian line: “No new gods, no new gods…”. The effect is intense and compelling.

The initial lightness of the next work is a shift in atmosphere, but it’s deceptive. Choreographed by Broome based Kunjen and Erub/Meriam dancer Czack (Ses) Bero and Nouméa based Kanak/Ni Vanuatuan/Papua New Guinean dancer Stan Nalo, Bloodlines is described in the program notes as an exploration of the appalling histories of Australia within the context of slavery and forced transportation of South Sea Islanders by the British from the 1860s.

Co-created with with Torres Strait Islander director Ghenoa Gela in collaboration with Anglo-settler Miranda Wheen, Bloodlines is performed by Bero and Nalo, who make a soul-moving duo. A jam to popular songs, such as Fancy by Iggy Azalea (Ft. Charli XCX), quickly gives way to something deeper and darker, the exhaustion of slavery.

Both Bero and Nalo are descendants of these histories, and it feels like we are witnessing the duo drawing from ancestral presence as they carve space with their limbs, lunging and turning, softly tumbling in and out of the floor. The significance can’t be ignored; Bloodlines teaches us those histories we were never taught in school.

Emmanuel James Brown creates an emotional homage to generations of connection between dance, art and Country in the central Kimberley in ‘Nyuju’. Photo: Emma Fishwick

Bringing to life the paintings of senior Wangkatjungka artist Nyuju Stumpy Brown, who was amongst the last nomads of the Great Sandy Desert, Emmanuel James Brown (EJB) reflects on the extraordinary life of his great grandmother in the final work on the bill.

Titled Nyuju, and co-devised with Yawuru/Bardi choreographer Dalisa Pigram and Malay associate choreographer Zunnur Zhafirah, the work holds space for Brown’s work in mesmerising animations by third generation English settler Sohan Ariel Hayes. Animated dark patches on the floor transform into circles of liquid colour, before transitioning into the next painting. Hayes brings to life Brown’s work with upmost respect.

Whilst holding space for the animated paintings, EJB relates stories of Brown’s life verbally. At the same time he also yarns through movement and gesture, combining traditional and contemporary dance to create an emotional homage to generations of connection between dance, art and Country in the central Kimberley.

Nyuju finishes Burrbgaja Yalirra 2 on a high.

Breathtaking and intense, this triple bill invigorates PICA’s black box performance space. Burrbgaja Yalirra is a must-see… hopefully you’ve already booked a ticket to this sold out season.

Burrbgaja Yalirra 2 continues at PICA until 20 May 2023.

Pictured top: Stanley Nalo and Czack (Ses) Bero in ‘Bloodlines’. Photo: Emma Fishwick

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Author —
Zali Morgan

Zali Morgan is a Wilman, Ballardong, Whadjuk Noongar woman. Currently working at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the emerging writer has a background in fine art and dance, but has a passion for all things creative. You can find Zali swinging around on the monkey bars, reminiscing about her childhood grip strength.

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