Australian Dance Reviews

Djuki Mala (The Chooky Dancers)

Seymour Centre, Sydney
May 28, 2014

By Lynne Lancaster of Dance Informa.

Bright and colourful, the packed house absolutely loved this show! It was full of boisterous schoolchildren clapping along where appropriate, and cheering, and wildly applauding at the end.

Based in the Galiwin’ku community of Elcho Island in North East Arnhem Land, Djuki Mala (which means Chooky Dancers in their language) continue to redefine the idiosyncratic dance style they are known for. This includes acrobatics, their own keen sense of humour, and a diverse mix of various dance styles and theatre. The company has been going for over a decade and is now under the leadership of Artistic Director Joshua Bond. It all started when a video of The Chookys doing their signature piece to ‘Zorba the Greek’ went viral on the internet, and yes it was included in this performance!

Choreographically, Djuki Mala displayed an incredible range of dance styles, ranging from Bollywood to limbo to break dance, hip-hop and almost everything in between as well as martial arts, all however drawing on the traditional Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander dance styles. The only styles that I think were not included were classical ballet, Flamenco and ballroom.

The performance was part of the National Reconciliation Week events at the Seymour Centre. It was all performed with great energy, pizzazz, and an infectious love of dance. The first third of the show featured the traditional dances with headdresses, spears, body paint and bold single colour kilts.

Djuki Mala (The Chooky Dancers)

Djuki Mala (The Chooky Dancers). Photo by Sean Young.

Interspersed with the live performance was film footage of interviews with some of the cast and elders where we learnt about the history of Djuki Mala and concern for the future. We learnt how The Chookys have become inspirational on Elcho Island. There was also some glorious landscape photography, and we were again reminded of how intensely the people relate to the land and how the dancers  attempt to feel and express their love of the land and environment.

There’s no set as such, just use of the back drapes as projection cloth and some excellent atmospheric lighting and dramatic use of shadows. Sometimes I found the abrupt changes between dance segments and styles perhaps a little unsettling, but still…

A Bollywood section all in gold costumes and turbans was sensational. Another delightful segment was Signing in the Rain with red, black and white umbrellas which blended traditional Aboriginal/Islander dance and showbiz musical styles.

The enthusiastic schools audience loved the break dancing/hip-hop section, and the exciting Michael Jackson tribute, which included a sequined glove and, yes, the moonwalk. There was also a great segment that was an affectionate tribute to the 1950’s – 60’s boy bands with cool, snazzy and snappy performances. One of the dancers had a fluid, wonderful contemporary style solo, about two thirds of the way through.

A fascinating, most enjoyable mix of assorted dance styles performed with vibrant energy and panache. A rare chance to see work from this remote part of Australia.

Photo (top): Djuki Mala (The Chooky Dancers). Photo by Sean Young.

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