Sunday, March 12, 2023





Jurrungu Ngan-Ga (Straight Talk) 

Collaboratively presented by Marrugeku Dance Theatre. The Dunstan Playhouse. Adelaide Festival Centre. March 10-12 2023.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


A lone Aboriginal dancer stamps upon the earth. It is the connection with a searching soul, struggling with the frustration and the pain of a people displaced and abandoned. A young man enters before a wall of steel. A camera catches him and his image is confined within four sides of the projection. It is the image of incarceration. He is tasered and thrust into a wheelchair and cast behind the steel wall into a cell. Blinding lights glare at the cruelty and a paper bag is placed over his head, indicative of the treatment at of Don Dale Youth Detention Centre It is the  the shameful evidence of brutal incarceration. Jurrung Ngan-Ga (Straight Talk) pulls no punches. The diverse company of Marrugeku dancers, fired with defiance, burst with energy and power their protest in electrifying and passionate dance. It is impulsive, thrusting its message with dynamic movement in a dance of defiance. Marrugeku is a contemporary dance theatre, innovative, individualistic and yet communal in its passion to confront the wrongs suffered at the hands of a white society represented on stage by chandeliers that are raised and lowered throughout the performance. The white person is represented as an invading colonial in one scene, a jabbering idiot in another. 

In the most chilling scene of accusation and protestation  the dead are called forth by name and the manner of their death, In a moving parade across the stage they call out the name s of those who died in incarceration and names of refugees who committed suicide on Manus Island or Nauru. The names continue, through only a small percentage of the total number enough to make the point in a hip hop number This Is Australia.

Drawing on the writings and words of Yuruwu elder Patrick Dodson, former Manus Island detainee and writer Behrouz Boochani and Iranian-Australian scholar-activist Oiud Tifighian, Marrugeku  has devised a multidisciplinary  performance that through lighting, sound and the spoken word informs the powerful emotions and thought provoking response to their dynamic dance. The inescapable atrocities enacted on the victims of policy and prejudice are expressed in the physicality of the dancers.  Jurrungu Ngan-Ga  cries out for justice through dance for the First Nations people of the land. The performance  pleads for compassion for the refugees forced to flee terror in their homeland, for women still abused and for all those denied their true identity.  The dancers twist and turn in defiance and rage. A youth is defiled in prison. And the privileged white person continues to ramble and rave beneath the chandelier.

Marrugeku’s dance is powered by the passion of their energy coursing through their limbs and the spirit of their culture. It is diverse and in that diversity is its innovation and individual fascination. But through it all the message remains blatantly apparent. Marrugeku’s dance is thrilling. Some segments are too long. The point is quickly made and repeated. It is a new work that could do with some pruning and yet the anger is justified and still young and old indigenous people die in custody. And still innocent people in search of safety and freedom continue to languish in refugee camps and detention centres. And still women are subjected to the most horrific domestic violence. And still the victims of brutality cry out for justice. Jarrubu Nga-Gan gives voice to those who suffer wrong at the hands of the wrongdoers. This is a performance that needs to leave the privileged comfort of the stage and visit the communities to spread the message through dance that offers empowerment.The voice for change may echo through the auditorium of the Dunstan Playhouse, but it will galvanize action through awareness in the community halls and schools. Perhaps then real solutions will be the legacy of this vanguard dance theatre company.

Creative and Cultural Team

Concept Dalisa Pigram and Rachael Swain with Patrick Dodson
Choreography Dalisa Pigram with the performers
Direction Rachael Swain
Performance Dramaturgy Hildegard de Vuyst
Cultural Dramaturgy Behrouz Boochani, Patrick Dodson, Omid Tofighian
Music Sam Serruys, Paul Charlier and Rhyan Clapham (aka DOBBY)
Lyrics Beni 'Bjah' Hasler
Sound Design Sam Serruys and Paul Charlier
Scenic Design Abdul-Rahman Abdullah
Costume Design Andrew Treloar
Lighting Design Damien Cooper
Additional Choreography Krump Army: Stacy Peke aka Red Ladybrui5er
Additional Music Far from Home - Farhad Bandesh and Anna Liebzeit (composition), Farhad Bandesh (recorded vocals sung in Kurdish), The Ha Dub Rewerk’d - MikeQ (composer and performer), Jalangurru Wiyi - Emmanuel James Brown (live vocals sung in Bunuba)
Additional Instrumental Recordings Natasha Rumiz (viola)


Co-devising Performers Czack (Ses) Bero, Emmanuel James Brown, Chandler Connell, Luke Currie-Richardson, Issa el Assaad, Zachary Lopez (previous), Macon Escobal Riley (present), Bhenji Ra, Feras Shaheen, Miranda Wheen


Production Manager & Lighting Operator Aiden Brennan
Audio Technician Raine Paul
Company Manager Denise Wilson
Producer and Tour Manager Natalie Smith

Photos by Andrew Beveridge