Dance Beyond the Festival with Djuki Mala and Attractor

Two standout dance events beyond the Adelaide Festival’s boundaries are as different as could be.

In the Fringe, Djuki Mala are back again. An exuberant small group of Indigenous dancers from North East Arnhem Land, they were first here in 2010 as the Chooky Dancers, then again in 2014, 2015 and 2016, with sold-out performances. Founded in 2007, they caught Australia and much of the rest of the world by surprise with a video in that year of dancing to Zorba the Greek, which went staggeringly viral. Thousands of people viewed it within a few days and the last count was over two million.

Since 2007, they have adapted and changed their name – Djuki means Chooky with a Yolngu accent, and Mala means Mob – and have performed in Britain, Europe, Lebanon, Egypt, Cyprus and America, including at major festivals, and have one many awards both here and abroad. The current cast is young – ages range from 20 to 25.

Artistic director Josh Bond is tremendously proud that it is one of the “longest-running completely independent Indigenous arts organisations [in the country] receiving no operational government funding”.

“We’re very proud to be coming back to Adelaide,” he says, “and presenting an extended season on our 10th birthday – it’s very exciting.”

djuki-mala-fringe-adelaide-reviewClick through to read our review of Djuki Mala at this year’s Fringe

The group is in the happy position of not having to chase engagements but being able to respond to requests. Asked why they are so successful Bond replies after a bit of thought, “I think it’s the incredible fusion of Indigenous dance with contemporary pop culture. It’s the perfect intersection for all of those diverse styles – you know, hip hop and Bollywood, Queenie Lorraine and Zorba the Greek and so on.”

Bond says the “show is essentially autobiographical”. “Looking back over the last 10 years, it’s really a celebration of Indigenous culture and dance”. They have been performing it for four years now, but are always creating new works.

Soon after my lively conversation with Josh Bond, I speak to Lucy Guerin in Orléans, where her company Lucy Guerin Inc. is ending a month-long European tour. Based in Melbourne, Adelaide-born and -trained Guerin has danced with companies led by Russell Dumas in Sydney, Nanette Hassall in Melbourne and, from 1989 to 1996, companies in New York, where she also began choreographing, with great success. She won two prestigious awards in 1996, the French Prix d’auteur and a American Bessie Award (and many more awards since). Coming home in the same year, Guerin established her company in Melbourne in 2002 and performs regularly there as well as touring widely in Europe, Asia and North America.

Adelaide gets a rare chance to see, and even be part of, Guerin’s work when WOMADelaide includes two performances of Attractor (Friday, March 10 and Saturday, March 11). But it’s not Guerin’s alone. She is collaborating with Chunky Move founder Gideon Obarzanek, Queensland company Dancenorth and Indonesian musical duo Senyawa, whose music builds to fever pitch, influenced by heavy metal bands such as Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath.

Guerin says Attractor is “slightly less conceptual” than her other works. She and the musicians are “interested in the conversation between movement and music and how music can drive the dancing into a higher state”. The musicians come “from a different artistic background, where dance and music are not so separate, and musicians will dance”.

attractor-lucy-guerin-senyawa-womadelaide-adelaide-review
The intensely captivating Senyawa will collaborate on Attractor

She is interested in the idea of rituals where the participants are driven into a trance state, or inhabited by the spirits of the dead, not through any belief system, and become “kind of invisible creatures”. “Dance and music,” she says, “can heighten our senses and transform us through their own power.”

The work will be premiered in late February in Melbourne’s Asia TOPA, but will undergo transformation for a bigger stage outdoors for WOMAD. One aspect will not change – you could be part of it. Email susan@dancenorth.com to find out how.

Djuki Mala
The Vagabond, Garden of Unearthly Delights
Until Sunday, March 5
adelaidefringe.com.au

Attractor
WOMADelaide
Friday, March 10 and Saturday, March 11
womadelaide.com.au

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