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Muniak Mulana - Melbourne Fringe Review

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by Aridhi Anderson (subscribe)
Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
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An abstract, evocative journey through indigenous history
Interdisciplinary indigenous artists Neil Morris (DRMNGNOW) and Brent Watkins (Culture Evolves) come together in their debut collaborative work at La Mama Courthouse from 11 to 16 September as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival 2018.

Brent Watkins and Neil Morris in Muniak Mulana. Photo credit: Sarah Steiner.
Brent Watkins and Neil Morris in Muniak Mulana. Photo credit: Sarah Steiner.


Muniak Mulana (future spirit) is an abstract, evocative journey through indigenous history, expressed through music, dance/movement and spoken word. The show follows the journey of indigenous people from precolonial times, through the tribulations of colonization, resilient as they continue into the future, which holds healing and promise.

Watching this show is an emotional and meditative experience. Visually, there is first the set, a beautifully designed landscape of a place that is un-industrialized, but not uninhabited: precolonial Australia. Then there is the music, which draws powerfully from the sounds of nature (wind, water, birds, and more) and subtlely intertwines them with musical elements and beats. The music creates an atmosphere that is simultaneously inviting and haunting. The physical performance begins with Brent Watkins responding to the soundtrack, his body tuned in to the energies around him; a compelling picture of a man who is one with the land he inhabits. This vignette is made complete with Neil Morris' spoken expression in Yorta Yorta language.

Brent Watkins in Muniak Mulana. Photo credit: Sarah Steiner.
Brent Watkins in Muniak Mulana. Photo credit: Sarah Steiner.


Details and nuances increase as the show progresses. The sounds and the choreography grow in complexity, and the themes and images communicated through the fusion of Morris' music and Watkins' movement emanate an almost hypnotic vibe. The tension is palpable at the point of first contact with foreign settlers. From this point onwards, Watkins' instinctive connection to the land and its sounds is under seige, and there is an overwhelming sense of a struggle to survive. Artistically, at this point, both the music and the choreography retain their individual power, but the former harmony between them is decisively (and impactfully) sacrificed. Morris comes in again with spoken word performance, from this time onwards in English, confirming by communication in words what is already being portrayed through sound and physicality.

Neil Morris in Muniak Mulana. Photo credit: Sarah Steiner.
Neil Morris in Muniak Mulana. Photo credit: Sarah Steiner.


Morris, in his poetry, likens the distress of indigenous people to flora and fauna facing the threat of extinction. This statement stands out, highlighting a running theme in this work, the connection of a people to their land and to nature. The physical performance, intentionally dissonant with the music, continues to compellingly embody the struggle of indigenous people over generations of bitter oppression. However, this is not the end. A spirit of resilience is fueled from within the struggle, and it reaches for healing. Watkins' physical connection to the land and its sounds begins to see restoration, albeit in a new form.

Brent Watkins in Muniak Mulana. Photo credit: Sarah Steiner.
Brent Watkins in Muniak Mulana. Photo credit: Sarah Steiner.


Muniak Mulana is a valuable work for several reasons. Artistically, it is a beautiful combination of music/sound, movement/dance, and message/spoken word poetry that will resonate with audiences of all backgrounds. Socially and politically, it serves as an invitation to a conversation about deeply emotional events and experiences that deserve greater public attention. At a personal level, it is both an important outlet for indigenous artists to process and make space for their own identities and histories, as well as an entry point for the audience (including non-indigenous audience members such as myself) to engage with these stories and connect with these voices.
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Why? Evocative exploration of indigenous history through music, dance and spoken word.
When: 11-16 September 2018
Phone: (03) 9660 9666
Where: La Mama Courthouse, 349 Drummond St, Carlton
Cost: $20-$30
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