Soundcast: Can you tell us about the company?
The company is Australian. One of the choreographers is from Belgium, Serge Aimé Coulibaly and one of them is from the Australian company (Dalisa Pigram n.v.d.r.). Three of the dancers are from Australia and three from new Caledonia.
How did this project start?
In 2016, there was a dance lab in New Caledonia that brought together dancers from Jakarta, Australia, New Zealand and Caledonia. The director of the lab was Serge. After the lab, they decided to create a piece about decolonisation. For New Caledonia it’s the decolonisation from Australia, and for Australia it becomes a question of recognition.
In the past year there was a referendum for independence in Caledonia. At the same time there was a treaty in Australia that would grant the natives the right to take political decisions. This is where the mix of New Caledonian and Australian dancers came from. Politically speaking, 2018 was going to be quite important. Since we already did the dance lab and shared stuff together, that’s where it comes from.
Have you been doing research into decolonisation and intercultural relations for a long time?
S: Some of the dancers in the Australian company are indigenous Australians. I think they might have made other pieces about the subject.
K: They made pieces about aboriginal identity but it was never this political. This is really about recognition.
S: We have done a lot of pieces dealing with our traditions but not necessarily speaking about political stuff like that. They have been working along those lines.
How do you approach this topic in dance? Do you incorporate traditional aboriginal dance?
K: Not exactly. Every dancer has his own story. Every dancer has his own dance. Even when we have to learn a choreography and work toward a mutual goal for a long time, we don’t give up this essence. We want to bring an energy. It is not an idea of mixing multiple cultures, it’s more about showing every individual. I’m from Vietnam, another dancer has an Indonesian background, but somehow every dancer has lived through similar political controversy.
Your different energies are very visible in the piece.
S: It is very complicated as well. I come from hiphop, he (K) comes from breakdancing and the women are more classically schooled. You have your traditional stuff but also what you dance every day. Together that’s more than six different styles. So instead of trying to learn what the others are doing, we decided to try to do away with formalities and just keep the energy instead. This was very difficult to coordinate in the beginning, but by working together over an extended period of time, a new vocabulary was created and this became our dance. This is our new identity for this piece.
A: There is no one language between us. Verbally, choreographically, in any context. I think the great thing about Marrugeku, especially with their 25 year history, is that they’ve always worked in an intercultural way. And there’s so much conversation about people working interculturally that for me it often feels like a pastiche of one thing against another. Serge and Dalisa are able to achieve something that embraces both the micro and the macro. Even if you have no context about what’s happening in Australia and New Caledonia, there’s a way into the piece. They have a beautiful way of including both the localities and universalities. I think this also comes from their own understanding of their localities and that they very much selected every single one of us for our understandings of our own localities. My grandmother on father’s side is Aborigal and my grandfather Maori, and on my mother’s side my grandmother’s from the Dominican Republic and my grandfather’s from Australia. Quite the mélange (laughs).
S: You could ask that question to each and everyone of us and get a similar answer.
A: It’s nice to be around people that allow you to explore the idea of cultural dance without it becoming like the first thing that you see. Because when we’re talking about decolonisation do we still have to play into these stereotypes? Underneath capitalism and the whole heap of systems, everything gets squashed and we can only see the hegemonic one-dimensional idea of what the colonized or colonizer looks like, when really there are so many different ways. If we keep on going back to that stereotype, how are we gonna know the complexity of all the other stories?
It was very beautiful to see six individuals with their own culture, history and personality forming one team.
S: I think everyone is looking for that. Having your own independence but still being among everybody.
Were audience reactions different in Australia?
S: The premiere was very tense. Just before the show, on of the big representatives of the Kanak people had met one of the Aboriginal representatives. This encounter already had a very strong impact. People were already very conscious of the context, it influenced the atmosphere.
How does every performance differ from the previous one?
S: The performance changes every time but we try to keep a steady relation to the main line of the piece. I don’t think every audience member necessarily needs to comprehend everything. Personally, I think if you see someone really say something, it does not necessarily matter what they say. It’s about the energy. And I hope we are steadily getting to that point with our performance.
How was the cooperation with Serge?
S: Serge has a way of getting you where you need to be without explicitly telling you where that is. He will say things like ‘I like your solo but try to think of these words’ or ‘try saying something you’ve never said before’ and the way he says it is so inviting that it just works. I won’t say it’s easy but he prepares a path for you and you just have to try and follow it.
A: He always withholds things. The task will never be direct. If he tells us directly, sometimes we can go there too quickly. You trust him and he knows what he wants to extract.
S: We start to understand it by going through it.