Djuki Mala

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Assembly Theatre
6-26 August (16:10)


Djuki Mala are back to delight the Edinburgh Fringe after last year’s rave reception. This lively troupe of Aboriginal Australia dancers who hit the international spotlight with a viral video are now in their 11th year of touring. They come from remote Elcho Island in Arnhem Land in the north of Australia, and they are keen to share the story of their community and culture with the world. They asked us right from the beginning to clap and stomp as much as possible, to give them the energy to give their utmost. Sometime cultural performances to unfamiliar audiences that have no context can be problematic. However, the performances are interspersed between firstly an honest snapshot of the tragic history of how Aboriginal people have been treated in the past 200 years, after 60,000 years of a unbroken cultural lineage and then personal narratives from members of the community. It gives the audience a real appreciation of the importance of dance as not just to express hope and joy, but a vital means of survival, cultural expression and connection to the land.

To trance-inducing beats, the dancers mesmerised the audience with a homage to their ancestors, as they danced adorned in traditional paint. Rhythmic chanting accompanied energetic dancing as elder Margaret tells the story of how Djuki Mala came to be. Joyful and slightly cheesy hip hop poses to lively Greek music brings us to their original viral dance and the personal story of its origin. Joseph Bond, the producer, explains that their tour in itself is a political comment on cultural appropriation. So when the group bust out some Bollywood moves in gold turbans and matching shorts, with the Edinburgh audience considered, it begins to mess with our understanding of where the lines of cultural appropriation now fall. The backdrop of the narrative explaining Yolngu culture means that the experience can jump from a very sad, serious story straight to a hilarious spoof of Singing in the Rain in shorts and brightly coloured umbrellas, complete with cheeky expressions, winks and flirtatious waves.

The international influences sit firmly on a bedrock of traditional culture that they have fought supremely hard to keep since white colonisers first came to their island in the 1930’s. The reminders of the importance of knowing one’s culture grounds the whole performance, freeing the dancers to then bring on the humour to bring pure unbridled joy to the audience. They explained that comedy is a natural part of the culture, and even initiation ceremonies would include comedic impressions of animals like crocodiles. The rest of the show is a fun, spirited, personal take on a range of dances from Black American culture, from funk, Motown soul, hip-hop and Michael Jackson. All of their dance training has been the traditional community way, learning directly from the elders from childhood. They are exuberant, energetic and joyful. They stump up 100% of the funding for their tour, so do go and support them if you want to pick an uplifting and unusual experience during the Fringe.

Lisa Williams

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