A remark by one of her grandfathers, Senator Pat Dodson, about the Guwayi seabird that calls a warning when the tide is turning, inspired indigenous performer, Dalisa Pigram to spend three years in collaboration with Belgian Choreographer, Koen Augustijnen, creating Gudirr Gudirr.
Confronting questions of her own indigenous identity, Pigram focusses on major issues facing her own family and community in Broome to sound her own warnings about the effects of massive industrialisation on traditional lands. The loss of language, youth suicide, and the gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous well-being are all addressed in this compelling, beautifully realised and continually involving dance work.
Pigram makes imaginative use of her well-honed skills as an aerialist, dancer, gymnast, and Malay martial arts exponent, as well as animal movement and vocalisation to engage and fascinate as she skipped and prowled birdlike around Vernon Ah Kee’s inspired, minimalist setting.
Throughout, she addressed the audience directly in an intriguing combination of English and her own native Yawuru language, providing a particular highlight with a hilarious rant in pidgin, which featured the word ‘fucken’, repeated over and over, in a powerful demonstration of the disarming effectiveness of humour to express the frustration of perceived powerlessness.
Evocative images of Pigram’s father and family fishing expeditions, key-words and messages were projected onto the corrugated iron backdrop, to provide context. Among them an extraordinary extract of comments by a West Australian Administrator, A. O. Neville.
From time to time she wrapped herself in a fishing net hanging on one side of the stage, transforming it into a nest in which to shelter, a means to allow her to swoop and fly out over the audience, and a ladder on which to climb higher to meet challenges.
A strikingly inventive work, with an atmospheric soundtrack that includes songs sung by family member Stephen Pigram, Gudirr Gudirr, like the Guwayi bird which inspired it, disarmingly delivers important warnings amidst its entertaining and meticulously performed framework. Warnings which obviously resonated with the enthusiastic audience that greeted its only Canberra performance.
The Playhouse – Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Saturday 30 September 2017 – 8.00pm
Image: Dalisa Pigram in Gudirr Gudirr
Review: Bill Stephens OAM