Review: JURRUNGU NGAN-GA [STRAIGHT TALK] at Heath Ledger Theater

Raw, emotional and evocative multimedia piece is the reminder Australia needs

By: Sep. 20, 2023
Review: JURRUNGU NGAN-GA [STRAIGHT TALK] at Heath Ledger Theater

Sitting at the intersection that Indigenous people- our oldest- and refugees -our newest- people meet at is disproportionate rates of incarceration. As you sit through JURRUNGU NGAN-GA (Straight Talk), the reality of the intersection evolves from poignant to absurd as the talented performers deliver through movement and voice a series of truths with passion and anger. Jurrungu ngan-ga is a Yawuru term for straight talk: the difficult but important conversations that it's best to tackle head on. The talk in this show is exactly that, unapologetically direct and unrestrained. The dance movements convey feelings of anger, sadness, frustration, and a deep hurt felt by those on stage and the groups to which they belong.

Visual artist Abdul-Rahman Abdullah designed the simple yet effective set, beginning as a sheer prison-like metallic wall that becomes transparent to show the yearning for freedom by those within the walls. It also serves as a screen on which the surveillance style camera is projected, giving a brutal and regimented view of the deeply emotional movements and words from the performance pieces. Spotlights sit side of stage, whilst further lighting is given with the haunting juxtaposition of chandeliers, adding a tinge of beauty and softness to an otherwise bleak stage. 

Review: JURRUNGU NGAN-GA [STRAIGHT TALK] at Heath Ledger Theater

A combining of the minds of Yawuru/Bardi woman Dalisa Pigram and Aotearoan Rachael Swain, Marrugeku is a company devoted to bringing down walls and building bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists and traditional and modern styles. JURRUNGU NGAN-GA occupies the different styles confidently, with touches of traditional Indigenous dance moves and styles fused with modern urban moves. The picture is painted with the help of a variety of voices, with cultural collaboration from Yawuru elder Senator Pat Dobson, who has dedicated his life and work to giving a voice to the voiceless and facilitating constructive and straight-up relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Also collaborating was Kurdish-Iranian journalist, artist, and former Manus Island detainee Behrouz Boochani, whose experiences are also the basis for the award winning book No Friends but the Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison (which was translated and edited by Iranian Australian academic and fellow collaborator Omid Tofighian). The three provide the unmistakeable base of style in the show, whilst Hildegard de Vuyst adds a noticeable tinge of more classical dance stylings.

Review: JURRUNGU NGAN-GA [STRAIGHT TALK] at Heath Ledger Theater

The performers themselves are a multitalented and diverse group, with deep Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, refugee, migrant, and modern Australian roots. Each person has a different perspective on the narrative as well as their own story to tell. Their movements are fuelled by passion and emotion, ranging from defiance and triumph to hurt and disempowerment. Indeed, the negative emotions and experiences underpin the entire performance, there is an unmistakable touch of resistance and a refusal to accept that the way things are is the way things need to be. The message is confronting to the point of uncomfortable at times, with the creatives refusing to sanitise the reality, instead deliberately conveying provocative words and images, a tension which culminates with the rap This Is Australia, a rework along similar themes of Childish Gambino's This Is America. Throughout the entire work, there is hope- however mild- that by confronting these issues we can show an improvement. In showing the interrogation and incarceration techniques used against Indigenous people and asylum seekers the audience is interrogated and imprisoned, relentlessly forced to confront the harsh and painful reality. It is almost a dressing down of societal norms delivered by people who have had enough and are empowered by their art to speak out. Such stark reminders of just how high our capacity to do better is needed now as much as ever.

Harshly but honestly evocative and confrontational, JURRUNGU NGAN-GA is a must see reminder to everyone of the world so many people are forced to live in. Told so powerfully and so eloquently, it is as unforgettable as it is important.

JURRUNGU NGAN-GA (STRAIGHT TALK) is at Heath Ledger Theatre at the State Theatre Centre until September 23. Tickets and more information from Click Here Theatre Company.

Photos thanks to Prudence Upton.

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