October 01, 2007

Adelaide OzAsia Festival 2007

By William Yang
Space Theatre
Adelaide Festival Centre
September 26.

The Eyes of Marege
By Julie Janson
Australian Performance Exchange
And Teater Kita Makassar
Dunstan Playhouse
Adelaide Festival Centre
September 27.

To look from Arnhem Land, across the horizon of the Timor Sea towards Sulawesi, is to see with the Eyes of Marege. For four hundred years the Yolngu people traded and intermarried with the Makassan fishermen and mariners from Indonesia – until 1904, when all dealings were terminated by the South Australian Government.

Julie Janson’s intriguing story of Birramen, a Yolgnu man who, after killing a Makassan in a fight over a sacred dillybag, goes to Sulawesi to face the court, is co-directed by Sally Sussman and Asia Ramli and is the fruition of a four year project between Australian artists including Bangarra’s Djakapurra Munyurryun and Bernadette Walong and Teater Kita Makassar. In her notes, Sally Susskind observes that the re-orienting travel, initial misunderstandings and shifts of perspective the characters undergo are not unlike the cultural exchange and reciprocity of the project itself.

The result is a vivid tale of love, friendship, and mutual respect. The leads Berriman (Rod Smith) his sister Dhalawal (Lisa Flanagan) and her betrothed, Ahmad (Muhamed Ishaq) all bring a fresh playfulness to this innocent, if ultimately tragic, fable. With Arifin Manggau’s evocative music, the indigenous choreography, the bamboo scaffold set, and costumes in saffron and rich reds (all delectably lit by Simon Wise) the play is visually appealing. It is also tenderly persuasive as we see, through the eyes of Marege, that not all history is European.

Through a series of his artfully minimal solo show-and-tell presentations, William Yang has uniquely blended his memorably inquisitive photography with a personal narrative exploring his identity – sexually as a gay man, and growing up in Queensland as an Australian-born Chinese. In China, his ninth work, he is frankly overwhelmed by his subject.and he openly recognises the strangeness of his predicament. He is Chinese but does not speak the language. When in Beijing he looks like those around him but he is distinctly not. He finds China tiring and difficult and, he might say, is dependent on the kindness of strangers.

In this deftly constructed show he describes a series of visits from 1989 to 2004. We see him visiting a steel mill and a Mongolian herdsman’s hut, Tiannamen Square soon after the massacre and climbing Huang Shan, the sacred mountain. Yang’s droll commentary is, as ever, candid, ironic, self-deprecating and gently meditative, When still images of lily ponds begin to ripple (as the digital video suddenly kicks in) it is a kind of visual epiphany , when he shows footage of young Chinese boy teaching him how to make a Taoist devotion it is artlessly truthful.

“Meditations on identity” The Australian, October1, 2007, p.8.

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