Burning Daylight is the latest from dance theatre company Marrugeku. The company’s raison d’etre is to present large-scale outdoor works that tour regional and remote communities, as well as major Australian cities and international arts festivals.
Several years in development, Burning Daylight is part of the company’s expressed aim to tell intercultural stories. It’s billed as a “karaoke night Broome style, where country meets hip hop meets Japanese love song.”
Choreographed by Dalisa Pigram, a founding member of Marrugeku, and Belgium-based West African Serge Amié Coulibaly, the show features seven performers, three musicians and videos by Warwick Thornton.
Stylistic influences range from the work of Tracey Moffatt to the ‘noodle Westerns’ popular throughout Asia to the movements found in Silat (the Malay/Indonesian martial artform, still practised in Broome by ethnic Malays).
Director Rachael Swain, also founder and director of Marrugeku, explains the work’s intensely eclectic nature:
“That's a direct response to Broome itself – the very heady combination of the saltwater music, the country and rock music with the hip hop, and of course karaoke, and the dance styles that we're using.
”It seems too big to be true but it really is what Broome is like. It's an amazing set of collisions of cultures and forms.”
Most intriguingly, Burning Daylight is not just about the way we live now. It’s also a reflection on the clash of cultures across time and space.
“It's particularly about young people who walk the streets at night and the intergenerational ghosts that haunt them,” says Swain.
“There's young people who live a very globalised, contemporary life, and yet they're informed by multiple cultural identities and multiple histories. Maybe they've got grandparents who left country behind or were removed or travelled for love.”
The original impetus for the work was the phrase ‘Asian Wild West’ as a description of Broome.
“We read these early journalistic descriptions of the bar scene around Broome at the turn of the last century.
“The contemporary version of that is the karaoke bar that happens in town on a Monday night – a lot of stockmen in town from the Kimberley and there's local Chinese and tourists and whoever else, getting up and singing together.
“That became a structural device in the piece, this playful idea of karaoke.”
In Burning Daylight music and dance are accompanied by videos that tell ‘classic interracial love stories’ of old Broome.
“We allow the songs to carry narratives in the work and juxtapose that with life in the streets for young people.”
The short films were written by Swain and dramaturg Josephine Wilson and shot and directed by Warwick Thornton. They feature doubles of the performers on stage, so that a sort of micro-narrative that “weaves backwards and forwards between the stage and screen” is constructed.
Combining video with live performance may be rather fashionable these days but it’s also a risky enterprise, as Swain acknowledges.
“There's an enormous amount of theatre craft involved in using video on stage effectively,” she says, “A lot of it is done really badly.”
“When you create a theatre work every single medium that's involved can never be complete in its own right, it's always part of a whole. Nothing can stand on its own, it all has to be contributing in different ways to different layers of what's happening in the work.”
Marrugeku will continue to work with filmmakers. It’s a collaboration Swain says was arrived at naturally, as part of finding storytelling methods to honestly reflect Indigenous experience.
“I think a very quintessential Indigenous experience of being in place is that there are also multiple realities. Often Indigenous people are experiencing the present, the past and the Dreaming all at the same time.”
Burning Daylight has enjoyed a long gestation period, with ‘avant premieres’ in Broome and Switzerland.
Repeatedly putting the same work in front of an audience is key to Marrugeku’s process.
“All our works have premiered in situ, where they were developed, and they are trialed in a number of stages,” says Swain.
“We're really into the local humour, the local perceptions and experience – and also the local physical environments have a big impact on the work.”
The benefits of an audience response are difficult to quantify but invaluable, she says.
“Sometimes it's just feeling the audience feel the work. You can feel it when they're not getting it and then that makes you go away and go, ‘Well, I didn’t get that right and let's work out a different way to do it.’
“It was good for us to have [Burning Daylight] viewed in Broome and viewed in Europe before we came to the final development stage. I think the audiences [in Europe] did experience the show as very foreign, but, at the same time, they really responded.
“Dramaturgy in Indigenous performance is often communicated through a kind of feeling and a layering of meaning. The response was very, very warm, and I think they really got something from the work, even if they didn’t always understand where it came from.”
Burning Daylight began its national tour in Broome on 28 October.
2009 Australian Tour Dates
Goolarri Outdoor Venue | 29 – 31 Oct
Russell Square | 4 – 7 Nov
CarriageWorks | 12 – 15 Nov
Arts House | 19 – 22 Nov
Princes Wharf | 26 – 28 Nov