3 April 2019

Aboriginal culture, in a tent, with some circus and bling…

| Lisa Herbert
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Djuki Mala bring traditional dance to the disco. Photo: Cam Campbell.

Among the acts shaking the silk-walls of the iconic Victoria Spiegeltent in Canberra this April, will be the unique and high-energy Aboriginal dance group, Djuki Mala.

Hailing from North East Arnhem Land, Djuki Mala, or as you might know them – The Chooky Dancers, have been delighting audiences around Australia and internationally with their cross-cultural moves and stories since 2007. These highly energized dancers re-interpret pop culture, dance and story-telling, mashing up traditional Yolngu dances with contemporary mobile-phone culture.

Having just completed tour seasons in Perth, Canada, Adelaide & Hobart, this is possibly the last time the group will perform their stunning autobiographical production titled ‘Djuki Mala’ in Canberra, the smash-hit-show that has taken these dancers from the turquoise waters of Elcho Island all around the world. In May they start work on a new show.

Djuka Mala dancers are used to singing in the rainy season. Photo: Cam Campbell.

Djuki Mala’s extraordinary journey from their remote island home started twelve years ago, when Frank Djirrimbilpilwuy uploaded a video clip of the group dancing an exuberant and hilarious interpretation of ‘Zorba the Greek’ on a local basketball court. Frank’s daughter had been cared for by a Greek woman in Darwin, and the dance, which celebrates these two strong cultures coming together, was a tribute to her. The joyous clip was an overnight success and went viral with currently around 2.7 million views on YouTube.

The music used in the show helps to tell their story and provides insight into the contrasting cultures that have shaped these men and their generation. Aside from the hilarious ‘Zorba the Greek’ dance, a funny and poignant ‘Singing in the Rain’ piece segues from classic Hollywood moves a la Gene Kelly, into a traditional, politically charged dance, sampled with stirring indigenous music.

Performer Yal (Yalyalwuy Gondarra) says “we also do the dances of the animals, the shark dance, the brolga, crocodile… And there’s a war dance and a ghost, or spirit dance… We’ve been brought up through dance, traditional and cultural, but also there’s what we dance to at the Friday night disco!”

They pay tribute to Motown, Bollywood, techno, hip-hop, breakdance, krumping and old school classic songs. Troupe member Baykali Ganambarr sums it up well: “We take our culture out of the museum and place it very firmly in the 21st century – with a bit of circus and bling!”

Interspersed throughout this hour-long show is projected rare documentary footage of some of the older troupe members talking about their lives and their community, all drenched in stunning images of their home, Elcho Island. ‘Djuki Mala’, by Djuki Mala, is a rare insight into contemporary Yolngu life.

Djuki Mala have played to over 500,000 people, in twenty-seven different countries across eleven years, a great achievement for performers coming from one of Australia’s most remote communities.

Ambassadors for Yolngu culture, they make you smile. Photo: Supplied.

Like high-energy ambassadors, Yal believes it is the troupe’s role “to bring and show our culture to everyone, not just in Australia. To be proud and say ‘we still exist and have a strong culture’”.

This retrospective show is a marvel of timing, humour and clowning and offers a snapshot of a culture that is living, dynamic. Yal says, “we are proud of our culture, and proud to share it with audiences… I can see all the people coming out of the Spiegeltent last time, I can see all their faces and they all have smiles on their faces.”

‘Djuki Mala’ three performances only, April 12 & 13. For tickets and more information, visit the Canberra Theatre Centre website.

Original Article published by Lisa Herbert on The RiotACT.

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