This solo work of dance theatre from Broome brought back such happy memories of the first appearance of a confident Josie/Ningali Lawford from The Kimberley in 1997, I was almost as blissed-out as performer/creator Dalisa Pigram was at the end of this one hour show. But we’ve moved on “ or should that be backwards – in the last 16 years. While Lawford made the positive case that as long as she retained her language, she could take on the white world as she chose, Pigram is much more cautious about the protection offered by her Yawaru language. She’s seen too many suicides and felt the imminent threat of Woodside and other miners’ encroachment on her Kimberley Country to be confident of the outcomes for her people.
‘Her’ people? While identifying totally with her Aboriginal side, Pigram seizes on the Malaysian in her to show off some Asian martial art, and the Worcestershire in the background gives her a verbal facility to spout a tirade of insults “ all requiring the dialect word ‘Fucken’ to blunt their excess! And designer Vernon Ah Kee has great fun too with a collage of Fuckens projected on to the rear wall of corrugated iron to create an indubitable artwork briefly.
What of the dance? Pigram’s is a compact, deliciously muscled body which can speak from shoulder to toe in as many languages as she can. Four dance sequences devised with Koen Augustijnen from Belgium’s Ballets C de la B take us from that Malay-flavoured warm-up, with just a hint of restriction in the movement, to a much more constrained sequence where the limitations of mechanical labour for the colonists are hinted at “ possibly sex-work. After listing the sins of white Australia’s impact on her people and showing us film of young men mindlessly fighting, Pigram dances despair, an incapacity to settle, involuntary movement and repeated self-harm. And finally, she recovers her equilibrium sufficient to wind-up with a dance of feminine confidence and grace.
Throughout, Pigram has used a net hanging from the flies “ a fishing net to tell an ecological story about greed which brings in the ‘Gudirr Gudirr’ call of warning by the guwayi bird that the tide is turning; a trap to contain her freedom of action; and, counter-intuitively, a track to escape as she flexes her acrobatic muscles up into the sky.
I’m not quite sure what the corrugated images of a snake (Yor Yor?) shedding its skin were about, but they came with a warning to her kin – You better watch out, boy, which were intended for the quadroons and abos in Broome, so easily dismissed in a report to the Protector of Aboriginals in WA in 1928 exempting the former from the White Australia policy. But it’s a message we all can consider, at the same time as experiencing the joyous physicality of its delivery.