Ngurrumilmarrmiriyu [Wrong Skin]

Ngurrumilmarrmiriyu [Wrong Skin]
Malthouse Theatre
March 18-28 2010

Ngurrumilmarrmiriyu [Wrong Skin] is the wonderful result of what happens when an established and mainstream theatrical company works collaboratively with an Indigenous Australian community to produce theatre. Wonderfully dynamic and affecting exploration of what is it to be a young Indigenous Australian exposed to global influences and how embracing this contemporary music and aesthetic can not diminish the importance and relevance of their own traditional culture.

The story of this work is a re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet onto Elcho Island where “the complex laws of ‘skin’ and clan define all relationships” and to love someone outside these is forbidden. This story falls neatly into a political and social critique of living conditions in the community, American Cultural influences, the Northern Territory Intervention, family, music and growing up. At no point are being lectured: the story, politics and the performance are melded seamlessly. A key visual realisation of this blend is seen in the continual use of multimedia images and sound on both a large projection screen and on seven smaller television sets around the stage. It is always a risk to rely on audio-visual but in this case it was integrated and worked very well throughout the piece. Particularly impressive was the aeroplane sequence; the use of the space behind the projection screen as an interior and of bring the television sets into the narrative itself.

Story and multimedia aside the real focus of this show was the dancing. The Chooky Dancers are international Youtube stars and have had success around the country performing at Galleries, the 2009 Comedy Festival Gala, music festivals, and most recently in the film Bran Nue Dae. (Great film, worth a look!) It is testament to both the quality of their dancing and the integrity of their performance that they have not been reduced to a temporary internet sensation but continue to share their unique fusion of traditional and contemporary dance styles for new audiences. They received rapturous reception to their Zorba the Greek interpretation and also demonstrated their skill wonderfully in delving into Bollywood, Broadway and hip-hop dance styles informed by their traditional dance backgrounds.

The detailed program notes for this production are especially important to understanding the level that Nigel Jamieson worked with the community on Elcho Island to create this work. It clearly was a collaborative piece and the result should be rewarding for all those involved. It certainly was rewarding to watch! It seems that this is the first season of the show and it is due to tour around the country. Personally I think that it is an incredibly important work and should be seen by as many people as possible. In times where Indigenous Australians are consistently been portrayed in the media as a desperate and desolate people it is even more important to have a message of hope. It is not that this production glosses over pain and suffering, indeed it confronts it, but it does not blindside the good work that does happen and it paves the way for new interpretations of issues from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives.

This show foregrounds Indigenous Australian culture as what it is: a continuing, present and adapting part of our society. It is not something left in the past, for the past is always with us. Ngurrumilmarrmiriyu [Wrong Skin] teaches us that culture is not static and both informs and is informed by the times we live in. Good theatre makes you think and even better theatre teaches you something about yourself and about your society. It wakes you up to the fact that Indigenous Australian culture has contemporary relevance for all of us and is most definitely worth celebrating as an integral part of our ‘national identity.’