By Annabelle Rosewarne
An excited hum pervaded the air on Saturday night, at the opening of Djuki Mala’s return to Perth Fringe World Festival 2019. This exuberant Indigenous dance crew originating from Elcho Island, North East Arnhem Land, has risen to fame, receiving international acclaim and success, sparked by a viral YouTube video in 2007.
It is no surprise that I was left awestruck, with sore cheeks from smiling so much.
This show is spectacular. It is a night of pure joy, celebrating the survival of a 60,000-year-old culture, and embracing the modern world through dance.
Upon entering the Spiegel tent, the audience was welcomed with upbeat rap/pop music as they took their seats. An excited hubbub set the tone for what’s to come. During a heartfelt acknowledgement of country, executive producer and director Joshua Bond, candidly spoke to the WA audience stating that “energy goes where energy flows”, resulting in their 3rd time returning to Perth.
The audience cheered, hooted and hollered before the performers had even graced the stage. And rightfully so! Immediately, their infectious energy exudes joy and love on stage. One cannot help but to feel a sense of community, and an urge to join in dancing in their seat.
We begin with a traditional dance sequence, and a poignant story of origin. The cast of four are dressed in loin cloth, and bare feet, complete with ceremonial white body paint. They carry Gara (spears) and Galpu (spear throwers).
Aided by multimedia, their movements are backdropped by powerful images and graphics, and interspersed with documentary style interviews. Narration from an elder of the Yolngu community, gives us an intimate insight into the moments that have shaped the troupe.
Djuki Mala’s unique fusion of old and new, is undoubtedly what gives them a distinct voice and worldwide recognition. Suddenly we are hit with modern music, and elements of traditional Aboriginal dance are seamlessly combined with contemporary pop-culture references. The performers are delightfully charismatic, and shamelessly cheeky. They gyrate onstage with modern movements and outrageous energy.
We are taken on a journey across cultures and through time. From Bollywood to Greece (Zorba the Greek), from Singin’ in the Rain to well-loved Motown songs of the 60s, and iconic dance tunes of the 90s (such as Missy Elliot’s Get your Freak On!), all the way to current hits. Perhaps the stand-out moment was a nod to Michael Jackson, complete with pelvis thrusting, and moon-walking.
The strong comedic elements of the show have origins in the Yolngu community, as much as the traditional dance. Many are inspired by initiation ceremonies for young men, whereby funny dances are performed to celebrate. Their clowning is timed to perfection, and their relentless playfulness is impossible not to like. The audience was raucous, giving a standing ovation before it was even the end of the show! And of course, another upon its completion.
This show is about togetherness. A seamless blend of their rich ancestry and their contemporary identity as Yolngu people in modern day Australia. It crosses cultural barriers and is a skilful mash-up of humour and heart. The show is a winning combination of silliness and buoyancy, with the sharing of tradition and culture. You will definitely leave Djuki Mala with a happy heart, feeling inspired to boogie!
Photo Credit: Cam Campbell
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.