4 Min Read

Beyond the Fourth Wall: Jurrungu Ngan-Ga [Straight Talk]

This is another one of those reviews where it feels weird for me as a white person to give you my opinion of a show that is a beautiful amalgamation of BIPOC creativity. My perspective is that of an outsider’s in many ways. But Jurrungu Ngan-Ga provides a perfect moment to allow learning for those open to perspective, and unity, whether you intended to find that or not. In the Welcome to Country preceding the show, I was struck by something that Vaughn McGuire said, “Why are we fighting for a voice in our own country?” 

As I sit here writing this review, my usual writing soundtrack does not play. Despite mostly lyric-less, it feels too distracting when I sit and think about this show. I’ve never walked out of a show wondering what to write like this before. Jurrungu Ngan-Ga will likely be one of those pieces that will sit with you for a long time and feed your conscious with its messaging for a lingering impact. 

Bhenji Ra in Jurrungu Ngan-Ga. Photography by Prudence Upton.

This contemporary dance piece is swift, smooth, and evocative. The dancers’ movements barely make a sound but the way they make the air in the room move is loud. Each scene sinks deep into an emotion just enough to pull a feeling out of you before shifting to another scene. What minimal dialogue came out was impactful.

The makings of the show started pre-pandemic, around the time of George Floyd’s death. There are haunting echoes of hallmarks of the Black Lives Matter movement such as the dialogue, “I can’t breathe” and the evocation to Say Their Name. The narrative of this show weaves an effortless intersection of Aboriginal, migrant, and refugee plight.

Since this show’s inception, Australia has entered an emotionally charged time with the referendum for an Aboriginal voice to parliament. This recent context adds onto the depth of this already heavy-hitting production. It felt weird being in a room of champagne socialists who are not likely to be the people who need the rich BIPOC perspective that this show offers. 

Jurrungu Ngan-Ga. Photography by Prudence Upton.

Aside from all the heavy political and social context, the show is an innately brilliant piece of work. The fragmentation of the pacing juxtaposed beautifully with the fluid choreography by Dalisa Pigram. The curly movements of the dancers’ incorporated Aboriginal culture with other cultures of prominent refugee demographics. 

The use of techniques such as breaking the fourth wall make this work confrontational. Abdul-Rahman Abdullah’s set design cleverly uses a literal wall to shift into a metal table on which to dance upon. The sound of the rhythmic choreographed dancing footsteps on metal contrast with the fluid movements in other scenes. This truly allows those scenes to forcibly permeate your awareness and make you pay attention. 

Damien Cooper’s lighting was simple, blending with the set design. The use of chandeliers in a grid-like pattern that rise and lower throughout different scenes illustrated an interesting metaphor for navigating through the darkness. 

Jurrungu Ngan-Ga. Photography by Prudence Upton.

A scene with Marrugeku’s rap This is Australia was the standout for me. Watching the music video, with some similar choreography, staging, costumes and performers, it gives you somewhat of a taste of what to expect at Jurrungu Ngan-Ga.

However, the platform of theatre hits different, so if that’s your thing then you’ll get to experience that song, and so much more, on a different level.

Jurrungu Ngan-Ga [Straight Talk] is a Marrugeku Production presented by Black Swan State Theatre Company and is in the Heath Ledger Theatre until Saturday 23 September.