Academic journal article About Performance

Telling That Story: Marrugeku Company's Creative Process in Western Arnhem Land

Academic journal article About Performance

Telling That Story: Marrugeku Company's Creative Process in Western Arnhem Land

Article excerpt

STORIES, HISTORIES, DREAMINGS

This essay is an exploration of the working process which took place in the Marrugeku Company in its early work in Western Arnhem Land between 1995 and 2000. It is an edited version of the dissertation I wrote for my MA in Performance Studies in which I attempted to document aspects of a developing process in what the c ompany saw as an intercultural lab oratory. Marrugeku has si nee m oved its base to Broome, Western Australia, but many of the central processes, understandings and values remain the same. In essence, the process is abouta group of individuals from some specific cultural backgrounds working together in a very special place and working in a way which has grown as the result of our discoveries together. Through unravelling some of these discoveries it is possible to get glimpses of understanding of such phenomena as storytelling, reconciliation and the parts they play in intercultural performance, that is to say, what they might be and how they might function in this specific intercultural and interdisciplinary collision.

Marrugeku's work in Kunbarllanjanja between 1994 and 2000 was a site where the art forms of the Kunwinjku, a remote tribe from western Arnhem Land, the practices of contemporary physical theatre and large scale site-specific performance art as well as contemporary Indigenous dance meet in a collision of identities, historical contradictions, and art forms. The company has achieved a rare undertaking in creating performances which have been performed in remote Kunwinjku and Yolnu communities throughout Arnhem Land, at urban Australia's international arts festivals and in vastly different cultural contexts of arts festivals in the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Brazil, the Philippines and New Caledonia.

Starting at the beginning is too difficult, for one must immediately ask: beginning of what? A history of Indigenous and non-Indigenous contact in Australia? A history of dance and physical theatre practices in Australia? A development of the flawed, adolescent genre of intercultural performance over the past few decades? A summary of the effects the Indigenous visual arts industry has had on remote community-based Indigenous artists? A discussion of non-Indigenous post-colonial anxieties and sense of dislocation or of alcoholism in Indigenous communities? All of these have had massive impacts on where our work has come from. Instead I will throw you, the reader, into the midst of all these factors, which is how our collaboration began, how it developed and how it continues. Right in the thick of it all, processing paradox, pain and complexity through lived experience.

The following is an excerpt from a conversation I had with Thompson Yulidjirri, visual artist, story man and elder to our project. Thompson has adopted me as 'yabo', or younger sister.1 Our conversation took place in November 1998 in Manila, the Philippines, where we were in the midst of staging our production Mimi. The company had just spent the past month in Arnhem Land, in rehearsal for a new work in development called Crying Baby. Thompson was talking about the difficult and subtle task of creating work that draws on both (old story' (dreaming stories) and Mew stor}? (either modern oral histories, or stories we create together).

First thing I can say, I think it's gamak (very good) that new story and old story go together. I will start with Crying Baby2,this place, somewhere behind Coopers Creek. (He pointed out the window of our multi-storey hotel, precisely in the direction of Arnhem Land) The story starts at Croaker Island, finishes up at Gapari. That little boy he was crying , all the time crying, all the time crying for food. If you let that little boy crying all the time, little boy will make rainbow come, will kill you all.3 Like this mob, white man came and take children away, might be I can't see them when they grow, they go away from mother and father, no one looking after them. …

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