You might remember Ghenoa Gela as a funny, bright and engaging Casca in Bell Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar last year. Here’s a performer who knows how to grab an audience.
My Urrwai is more subtle and personal stuff, about family and culture and gender and stories and hard questions about prejudice and attitudes. She’s a Rockhampton born Torres Strait Islander and initially she tells her story through Torres Strait dance and language. She makes the audience experience language and gestural blindness at the beginning. Finally she explains in English.
She tells of intensive schooling in the dance traditions of the Torres Strait from her family but pretty intensive schooling in the Christian religion as well. Her first name was changed by a teacher who could not deal with its original pronunciation.
She goes to visit the Torres Strait and is shunned by some women in a kitchen because she isn’t seen as one of them. The door is closed on her. That’s balanced by her successful performance of a particular dance. Her parents made sure she had the dances and the language. Prejudice comes out in complex ways.
Encounters with cops and people selling ballet shoes to a woman with larger feet (off to the men’s section…) are set against her cultural strengths.
She pulls in audience members too to be part of the story. At the Friday matinee where there were students present it was a couple of them who found themselves on the stage. The handling of these episodes was done with a sensitive good humour.
And she impresses upon any post 1788 Australians that there is a hell of a lot more still to this country and its cultures than the old school social studies books ever taught us.
It’s a pity that My Urrwai was only able to play two performances here.
Ghenoa Gela is a teller of stories to be watched. And to be heard.