Hailing from the North East Arnhem Land, Djuki Mala is a 4-man, Indigenous Australian dance troupe that fuses traditional Yolngu dancing with contemporary choreography, creating a vibrant and informative show.
The show begins with an – albeit slightly amateur-looking – animation, briefly explaining the geography and history of the Yolngu people. The Chooky Boys (the 4 dancers that make up Djuki Mala) then come on to stage, performing a traditional Aboriginal dance, set to indigenous music
Suddenly, though, the troupe breaks out into contemporary dance, with booming disco music and bright lights. The tone of the rest of the show is set: gone are the traditional Yolngu dances and music, replaced instead with a range of modern routines and costumes, from a Gene Kelly-esque number, to Motown boogies and a Michael Jackson-inspired tribute.
However, that’s not to say that, after the first dance, the Yolngu spirit is completely lost from the show: quite the opposite. Between each number, videos of the boys and their Elder discussing the troupe’s beginnings and their Yolngu culture play, teaching us about their childhoods and history. Perhaps the best thing about each of the dances, too, is that no matter what their style, there’s still a thread of Aboriginal character running through each. Whether it’s an odd Yolngu-like dance move thrown in here, or a variation of a well-known step there, the Chooky Boys manage to make each routine feel like their own.
This being said, there is one point where this enriching fusion of cultures feels slightly inappropriate. In one dance, the Chooky Boys don gold turbans and perform a Bollywood style number, which, given the mostly Western audience and lack of Indian performers, did strike a bit of an uncomfortable chord for me.
The rest of the routines, though, were an absolute joy to watch, and that is no doubt largely down to the Chooky Boys’ dancing skills. They bring a fizzing energy to the stage that never drops throughout the show and, despite their range of choreography, manage to take on each different dance with aplomb. Their movements are sharp and in-sync, and the range of different styles and multiple costume changes means the audience’s attention never wavers.
The personality of the Djuki Mala performers also shines through in every number. Whether it be an odd wink at the audience or the pulling of a funny face, there’s a cheekiness to each of the boys that brings a warmth and relaxed nature to their performance. The audience is left in no doubt when the Elder on the video mentions the comedy that occurs at Yolngu boys’ initiation ceremonies.
In a festival dominated by Western theatre and theatre-goers, Djuki Mala brings an important and refreshing cultural spectacle. Its fusion of Western and Yolngu culture seems to reflect the development of Aboriginal culture in Australia today, while the characters of the performers and their fun choreography make it a joy of a show to watch.
Francesca Sellors for Fresh Fringe