I saw Divercity on the last day of Melbourne’s Formula One Grand Prix. Over the weekend, fighter jets screamed above the city leaving chemtrails across the blue sky, while testosterone seemed to rule the roads, the watering holes and the public transport system. On the tram I took to see the show, four white men boisterously discussed how one of their mates wasn’t with them because his new girlfriend ‘had him by the balls’.
I wondered how they might feel if they were to join me at the Arts House to see Divercity and how – at the choreographer’s request – women were to enter the venue first while men were asked to wait for 15minutes before being seated.
"Her movement is pocked by enticing Aboriginal words."
Set on a black dark square space with a screen backdrop, a female dancer enters the space acknowledging the Traditional Owners – the Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung. The dancer lays across the centre of the space to begin the performance as a projector throws an image of dripping white paint on the screen behind; the image spills across the dancer’s body and appears as though its giving her life. Her dance is distinctly grounded for most of her performance. She is seated, legs crossed and comfortable, just as you might see an Aboriginal woman, around a camp fire, at a card game, or by a river, embedded in the land. Her movement is pocked by enticing Aboriginal words – some I recognise, most I don’t. The way she conveys her ’script’ is in a manner that is owned, eloquent and natural.
Before she exits the stage, moving backwards she draws an invisible rope, her movement suggesting it is weighted and heavy. She’s luring another dancer into the space that she has occupied as though she’s fishing, drawing in a big one! (The movements of fishing become a motif throughout the movement of the performance). As she leaves the square space we note how she’s left a carpet of blue and yellow dust.
"The word ‘tidda’ (sister) is called out by one of the dancers and at this moment a bond is formed, they both clap in unison, and so begin their lively, synchronised performance."
The second dancer performs with a screened moving image that echoes that dust you see when our dancers perform ceremony – kicking up the dust, calling our ancestors to bear witness. Her movement is freer, less restricted and not as grounded as the first. She too leaves a carpet of coloured dust across the dance floor. The first dancer re-enters the space, they’re seated – legs crossed and comfortable – and between their movements they call out words – some that are offered in isolation, others that are responses or questions between them both.
The word ‘tidda’ (sister) is called out by one of the dancers and at this moment a bond is formed, they both clap in unison, and so begin their lively, synchronised performance. There is a shared solidarity in their movement as they dance for each other and the audience, sometimes looking at us, acknowledging us with playful cheek and generosity. Their dance is owned, eloquent and natural.
The screen backdrop now features aerial views of moving country and I am taken aback by the white lines – like chemtrails – that map across the sprawling image of country. The white lines etch across the dancers’ bodies as a map of a city unfurls.
Divercity builds beautifully from this point to a crescendo that left me a little emotional, and bursting with gratitude. I’m not here to give away the story, because as an Aboriginal man it simply isn’t my yarn to tell. But I will say this: I have never seen Bundjalung/Yaegl choreographer Mariaa Randall’s work before and I can attest it is affecting, good-humoured, generous and packs a gorgeous, playful punch.
About Blak Critics:
Blak Critics addresses the need for robust, critical and culturally informed dialogue around Indigenous performance, practice and methodologies, in mainstream editorials and publications and the public domain. The project is supporting 9 Victorian-based Indigenous writers with a public platform for creating critical review and conversation, from our perspectives.
In partnership with Guardian Masterclasses, First Nations' festival YIRRAMBOI is delivering a tailored workshop series designed for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers to build capacity in the critical review of live performance, art, music and social discourse.
Yirramboi the First Nations Arts Festival is on in Melbourne from 5-14 May 2017. For more details check out their Yirramboi website.
Article originally published on Yirramboi Blak Critics.