Tuesday 11 September 2018

Muniak Mulana - Dance Review

What: Muniak Mulana
When: 11 - 16th September 2018
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Created and Performed by: Neil Morris and Brent Watkins
Lighting by: Russell Wong
Stage Managed by: Jaklene Vukasinovic
Neil Morris
Muniak Mulana is an Australian Indigenous story. Muniak Mulana is The Australian Indigenous story. Muniak Mulana is future spirit and can be seen for only the shortest of seasons at La Mama Courthouse this week. Do not miss it.

The program tells us:
Muniak Mulana is future spirit.
Muniak Mulana is future spirit that has always been present.
Muniak Mulana is the origins, the constant, the song, the pulse.
Muniak Mulana is all of this and more.

Created by artist and choreographer Brent Watkins and artist and sound designer Neil Morris, Muniak Mulana traces the Indigenous experience from The Dreaming, through the creation of man, to invasion, through to social decimation and beyond. It is a truth telling and the truth is the beauty and majesty of our first people, the terra nullius swindle, and the extermination/assimilation initiatives (which are still going on today, I might add).

This show is not bleak and despairing though. On the contrary, it is eye wettingly beautiful. The stage is framed with native plants and exquisite paperbark logs, with a gum leaf fire in the centre around which Watkins dances his way through history and on to a new tomorrow.

Powered on by the powerful and potent sound design by Morris, Watkins emerges from the earth a bird and he dances around the 'fire' corroboree style. The beauty of this dance reminded me strongly of the grace and glory of the Brolga Dance and when - later in the show - Morris talks about the majesty of the original culture in one of his several spoken word breaks, we know what he is talking about because we have just seen it and more before our very eyes.

Muniak Mulana has all of the cliche elements we white people have been pimping out to tourists for centuries, but Morris and Watkins bring it to us as it is meant to be done - with honour, respect, grace, and yes, majesty - and although these elements are instantly recognisable I found myself thinking I had never really seen them before.

Watching Watkins embody the fauna - the kangaroo, the emu, the bird - I suddenly understood that these dances are the equivalent to our idea of university. The detail and understanding of these animals - how they move, what they do, every muscle, every twitch - is as detailed and specific as any zoology text you will find at Oxford or Yale. The difference is, dancing the information to the community around the fire means everyone learns, and not just the rich and privileged few as in our Western education system.

Morris uses spoken word poetry in powerful outbreaks to talk about the past, about injustices, about atrocities. On our seats as we arrived there is a piece of paper outlining the assimilation principles of 1951, and towards the end we hear the voice of Lang Hancock talking about extermination through sterilisation. It is horrific and powerful and Morris does not let us off the hook.

It is not about blaming, though. It is about truth telling and as we hear the anger and pain in Morris's voice we watch as Watkins struggles against his chains and falls to the floor in defeat.

Muniak Mulana does not sit only in the past though. It moves through to the present, referencing a people trying to stand on their own two feet only to fall down as they are poisoned with alcohol.

Despite everything I have said, Muniak Mulana is a dance of hope and potential. To move forward you have to understand the past and that is what Watkins and Morris have shown us. Rather than destroying them though, they rise as beacons of hope and show there is a future, you just have to fight to bring it about.

They are still here. Always has been, always will be Aboriginal land.

The detail and execution of this piece of theatre is breathtaking. From the set, to the dance, to the music, to the content - it is all perfection. Wong's lighting echoes the beauty of the eucalypt forests and brings us into the campfire, into the story.

It is heartbreaking that Muniak Mulana is only on for such a short time. I know this is Melbourne Fringe and there is so much to see, but Muniak Mulana should not be missed.

5 Stars

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