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Review: Djuki Mala at HOTA

By Regan Baker

Powerful, energetic, side-splittingly funny and 100% unexpected. Among many other things these are just a handful of ways one could describe Djuki Mala’s self-titled performance at the Gold Coast’s beautiful Art’s Theatre. Some of you may already be wondering why unexpected sprung to mind when describing the show, so let me tell you a bit about myself. I LOVE the unknown. I love surprises. And I love being out of my comfort zone. So when I was asked to attend Djuki Mala I did ZERO research. Nil. Nada. I wanted to be a blank canvas ready to take everything in and experience something different. Safe to say – I was not disappointed!

From the title I had suspected the show to be a traditional Indigenous dance and storytelling and this was quickly confirmed by the opening special performance from the Mangrove Jack Band, who played a cultural blend of Indigenous and Western music (Sidebar: They were amazing and I would pay to see them again). The lights dimmed and through a mix of spoken word and multimedia presentation, we were treated with a cultural storytelling of Indigenous history. Maybe it was just me, but there was something extra powerful about hearing of the British invasion of the land and subsequent slaughter of the Indigenous people on today of all days – the Federal Election.

The hypnotising rhythms of didgeridoo’s and clapsticks rung through the Arts Theatre as the Djuki Mala performers weaved their way around the dark and smoky stage.  Each dance element of the performance was intercut by a multimedia presentation of relatives and friends of Djuki Mala telling some of the more intimate details of how the group formed. It was around this point in time that I started to think to myself, “Four guys, one stage and 70-minutes of Indigenous dance… Don’t get me wrong, it’s already shaping to be a great performance, but how exactly did this become a global sensation?”

And then it happened…

The shift from traditional Indigenous performance to pop-culture blend caught me completely by surprise, but in the best way possible. The next 60-minutes were some of the most fun I have had all year and quite possibly one of the best performances I have ever seen on home soil. The high-energy mix of traditional Indigenous culture, hip-hop music and pop-culture dance had everyone in the audience howling, clapping, whistling and cheering their hearts out. Michael Jackson, The Temptations, Gene Kelly… nothing was off-limits for these highly talented artists. The theatre was filled with energy and passion and one gentleman a few seats in front of me was quite literally laughing himself out of his seat!

Intertwined throughout the dance routines were cutaway videos describing the groups rise to stardom over the past twelve years and what shaped them into the men that stand (and dance) before us. It was a truly powerful message of multiculturalism superbly demonstrated through the fusing of Yolngu culture and contemporary forms of dance.

A must-see performance for men, women and children alike, Djuki Mala is a night to be remembered and a cultural phenomenon not to be missed.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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