Left – Dalisa Pigram. Photo – Heidrun Lohr
Having already met with considerable acclaim in Melbourne, Sydney, London, Spain, Germany and Belgium, it’s perhaps unsurprising to learn that Marrugeku’s Gudirr Gudirr can be officially deemed one of Brisbane Powerhouse’s World Theatre Festival’s best works – but, really, framing its success in such a context does very little to successfully convey the devastating significance of Marrugeku’s work.
Really, it’s a work whose power can only really be adequately conveyed with some acknowledgement of its personal impact. And, for me, personally, I have a very hard time thinking of a show that has so profoundly and precisely hurt me. I don’t mean pain in the sense of bruising, either. Gudirr Gudirr does not batter or bludgeon an audience. When I speak of hurt, I speak of being stabbed. Only, slower.
In one monologue, in particular, I felt as if Dalisa Pigram had buried something very sharp inside my chest and was, quite coldly and deliberately, twisting it to inflict further trauma. Which may be a surprisingly melodramatic way of critically discussing a work – but it’s one of the only ways I could think of to truly communicate the scope of Gudirr Gudirr’s impact. It represents both the closest I’ve come to crying in a theatre and the only time I’ve ever tried to instigate a standing ovation.
How did it garner such a reaction? A combination of technical precision and unrelenting honesty. On this matter, I feel I should be especially clear; Gudirr Gudirr is as technically and creatively sophisticated in its construction as it is immediately evocative in its topical and thematic content. When works affect us in an emotional way, we can sometimes fall into a trap of attributing their triumph solely to their thematic content. Gudirr Gudirr shouldn’t be viewed in such terms.
It’s billed as a solo dance work. Strictly speaking, it’s a fair term. Co-choreographer and dancer Dalisa Pigram is the sole performer on stage for the duration of the work. However, there’s so much more to Gudirr Gudirr than dance. Pigram’s performance spans aerial circus work, Malaysian martial arts, traditional indigenous dance and spoken-word monologues. Throughout, multimedia and sound are both employed frequently and to great effect.
The skill of the work is in how seamlessly Pigram and her collaborators have integrated such a wide array of materials and forms of engagement into a sole dynamic work. It’s a far-reaching collage of stimuli that explores Pigram’s identity through a multiplicity of perspectives – but still functions as a solitary piece. Seeming divergent, each facet actually enhances each other with intelligence and creativity.
For example, a bold, poetic monologue contrasting obstacles faced by the indigenous in the past and the present is added greater resonance later in the work by a vignette of Pigram’s abstract movements set to a tableau of film footage of young men savagely beating each other up in a public street. Throughout, Pigram cleverly alternates in approach between outright challenging her audience and allowing them a space for contemplation.
The intelligence and sophistication showcased by the work’s design, meanwhile, only serves to deepen Gudirr Gudirr’s eventual emotional impact. In a monologue dealing directly with her Indigenous, Malaysian and Filipino heritage (punctuated by more uses of the f-word per minute than you can possibly imagine), Pigram summons such a ferocity of complicated humanity that her performance can’t help but find a surprising line between bitter tragedy and outright hilarity.
There is so much more that could be dissected or discussed. The simple fury of a minor dance interlude. The confronting reality of Pigram’s reciting of the atrocities still perpetrated against Australia’s indigenous population by Australia’s peoples. The cold horror of the xenophobic disdain of some of the work’s quotes from Australia’s past. Or, on a different note, the silliness, humour and playfulness that also threads through the work.
At a certain point, it’s simply repeating the obvious: Gudirr Gudirr is a work that I am unequivocally assured that you must see and experience. In a more financially lucrative state, I’d simply fund your ticket and transportation myself. It’s tempting to say ‘it’s that good’ but, really, ‘good’ isn’t the word for it. It’s painful, vicious and raw. Funny, absurd and reflexive. A blistering, furious torrent of humanity. ‘Good’ doesn’t really cover it.
WTF Festival 2014
Venue: Visy Theatre | Brisbane Powerhouse
Dates: 20 – 22 February, 2014