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YIRRAMBOI Festival at Arts House - 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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Compelling dance shows by Vicki Van Hout and Joel Bray
The 2019 YIRRAMBOI Festival (YIRRAMBOI means 'tomorrow' in the languages of the Boonwurrung and Woiwurrung peoples) was a celebration of the world's oldest living culture, showcased in one hundred arts and culture events by First Nations creatives around the city of Melbourne from 2 - 12 May. Among these many incredible events were two dance-based works hosted by Arts House: Vicki Van Hout's plenty serious TALK TALK and Joel Bray's Daddy. Both these works explored themes of contemporary indigenous art, identity and perception, as well as indigenous history, intergenerational trauma, and the ongoing impact of historical and contemporary injustices. Apart from these shared themes, however, the works were drastically different from each other in focus, form, and feel, and were both uniquely powerful experiences.

plenty serious TALK TALK by Vicki Van Hout. Image credit: Bryony Jackson.
plenty serious TALK TALK by Vicki Van Hout. Image credit: Bryony Jackson.


Van Hout's show, plenty serious TALK TALK, was a quirky, complex, satirical and abstract work loaded with subtext. It was presented as a series of sketches incorporating dance, spoken word, physical performance, and multimedia, all seemingly unconnected (at least on the surface), but drawing from each other and maintaining a thematic and tonal flow. The set was uncomplicated, consisting of a desk and a chair, and a circular hanging artwork with a traditional looking weave pattern, through which short videos were projected onto the back wall, as if through a filter. This circular structure was visually striking and functioned as a silent but essential focus throughout the show. The content itself had many interesting and varied elements, some more cryptic and abstract than others, but the rich use of physical, verbal and situational metaphors was an absolute highlight. Van Hout delivered an arresting physical performance and persuasively conveyed her messages through a combination of raw emotional impact (such as the scene portraying a violent encounter), thought-provoking ideas (such as her character descriptions of Ms Light Tan and life on the edge) and incisive humour (such as her auction sequence and commentary which contrasted/fused traditional indigenous dance styles with European dance styles).

Daddy by Joel Bray. Image credit: Bryony Jackson.
Daddy by Joel Bray. Image credit: Bryony Jackson.


Bray's show, Daddy, was a deeply personal work about a queer man trying to connect with his Wiradjuri roots, and trying to find his place in the outside world while dealing with his inner struggles. Daddy was a layered, emotional, and extremely unusual dessert-themed participatory show, where Bray moved both powerfully and vulnerably among his audience, connecting warmly and graciously with people through verbal and physical storytelling and situational re-enactments. His stories held deeply traumatic memories and experiences, which were at times devastatingly moving, but the sweetness of the performance (mostly literal but also figurative) provided both an escape from the heaviness, and insight into Bray's resilience. There were several fun and entertaining activities for the audience to get involved with, including holding up backdrops, showering Bray with icing sugar, and my personal favourite bit, dancing as a group (simple steps taught on the spot) in a club scene. The frequent changes between scenes and audience participation activities were sometimes a bit rough with the illusions that Bray so beautifully created, but that also added to the raw, personal appeal of the show. Overall, Daddy was a show that drew from Bray's very specific experience as a queer man struggling to connect with his Wiradjuri culture and identity, but portrayed this experience through stunning choreography and storytelling, in a way that made it emotionally accessible to those who came along for the journey.
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Why? Dance shows with unique First Nations perspectives
When: 9 - 12 May 2019
Where: Arts House, 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne
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