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Jurrungu Ngan-ga [Straight Talk]

29 - 31 Aug

Dance as resistance: Marrugeku tears down walls.

By Dalisa Pigram and Rachael Swain, with Patrick Dodson and collaborators

Challenging, joyful and deeply affecting, Jurrungu Ngan-ga [Straight Talk] is a dance, sound, and installation work that confronts Australia’s shameful fixation with incarceration. Exceptionally talented dancers draw on cultural and community experience to move deftly between horror, truth-telling, and bodily resistance.

At the forefront of cultural expressive integrity, Marrugeku is an unparalleled presence in Australia today. Dedicated to Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians working together, they develop new dance languages that are restless, transformative and unwavering.

Designed by leading Western Australian visual artist Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, co-created with Yawuru leader Patrick Dodson, Kurdish-Iranian writer and former Manus Island detainee Behrouz Boochani, and Iranian-Australian scholar-activist Omid Tofighian, this is an exquisite work of great sophistication that throbs with sadness, anger and joy.

Brutally beautiful, it will arrest your attention, dare you to look away, and dream of the day we will know solidarity in difference.


  • ...burns with ferocious, life-affirming passion. - The Australian
  • In radical and powerful spaces like Jurrungu Ngan-ga there is another way to imagine the world - Omid Tofighian
  • A radically provocative piece of dance theatre where audiences learn in emotive detail about systems of power and control. T - The Conversation
  • It is harrowing, horrifying at times and darkly amusing at others, and finally very moving. - Limelight Magazine
  • An astonishing work in many ways. We need the politicians to see this. - Sydney Morning Herald
  • A potent, superbly executed work that pulsates with sadness and rage, resilience and joy. - Arts Hub

Cast and Creatives

Concept Dalisa Pigram and Rachael Swain with Patrick Dodson
Choreography Dalisa Pigram with the performers
Direction Rachael Swain
Performance Dramaturgy Hildegard de Vuyst
Cultural Dramaturgy Behrouz Boochani, Patrick Dodson, Omid Tofighian
Music Sam Serruys, Paul Charlier and Rhyan Clapham (aka DOBBY)
Lyrics Beni Bjar
Sound Design Sam Serruys and Paul Charlier
Scenic Design Abdul-Rahman Abdullah
Costume Design Andrew Treloar
Lighting Design Damien Cooper
Additional Choreography Krump Army: Stacy Peke aka Red Ladybrui5er
Production Manager & Lighting Operator Aiden Brennan
Audio Technician Raine Paul
Company Manager Denise Wilson
Producer and Tour Manager Natalie Smith
Co-Devising Performers Czack (Ses) Bero, Emmanuel James Brown, Chandler Connell, Luke CurrieRichardson, Issa el Assaad, Macon Escobal Riley, Bhenji Ra, Feras Shaheen and Miranda Wheen.

Sadness, anger, resilience and joy: The Making of Jurrungu Ngan-ga

Artist Statement by Dalisa Pigram and Rachael Swain

In July 2016 we sat down with Yawuru leader, Patrick Dodson to discuss Jurrungu ngan-ga, a Yawuru kinship concept that enables certain relatives to communicate ‘straight’ or directly with one another. 30 years earlier Patrick had been one of six commissioners and the only non-lawyer who sat on the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Thinking about Jurrungu ngan-ga as a concept to inspire a new work for Marrugeku, Patrick said: ‘Because we lack the ability to straight talk to one another, this fear grows in each generation, holding community and society back in multiple ways’.

As it happened, the evening before the ABC had aired the devastating documentary titled Australia’s Shame, exposing the brutal treatment of Indigenous children in the Northern Territory’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. The footage taken on mobile phones inside the prison showed young offenders stripped naked, assaulted and tear-gassed. As we talked, Patrick took the time to receive phone calls from the boy’s lawyers and the media and then returned to Jurrungu ngan-ga. He then made the critical link between the rampant imprisonment of Indigenous Australians, who remain proportionally some of the most incarcerated peoples in the world, and the locking up of refugees in offshore and onshore detention centres. He suggested: “This linked scenario stems from our history as a penal colony. We are a nation of jailers, we lock up that which we fear” and asked: “Why does it take five big men to detain one little boy? Cruelty is a heinous thing”. Patrick then posed a crucial question: How would we work to embody fear on stage?

Researching this question led us to the ground-breaking autobiographical novel No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison (2018); a collaborative work written in Farsi by Kurdish Iranian journalist and filmmaker Behrouz Boochani and translated into English and edited by Iranian Australian scholar-activist Omid Tofighian. Behrouz’s account of his perilous journey to Australia in search of safety and protection, and his subsequent incarceration in the Australian-run immigration prison on Manus Island (PNG), was translated by Omid from thousands of WhatsApp messages typed into a smuggled phone.* In Behrouz’s and Omid’s culturally situated, philosophical and political framing of Australia’s carceral-border regime, we found critical tools, approaches to genre and key scenes that helped us to activate Patrick’s questions.

Most of the messages were collated first by Boochani’s other translator, Moones Mansoubi.

We invited Behrouz and Omid as guest cultural dramaturgs to join Patrick in this long term role with the company, working alongside Flemish dance dramaturg Hildegard de Vuyst. Through this intersectional dialogue we extended Marrugeku’s existing intercultural and improvisational devising processes to produce three distinct performance genres for the work: ‘straight talk’, ‘horrific surrealism’ and ‘this is Australia’. In this way we have continued Marrugeku’s core mission to work through the methodologies of Indigenous governed intercultural performance to create art that interrogates the burning issues of our times.

Jurrungu Ngan-ga is set in the ‘prison of the mind of Australia’, expertly designed by Abdul-Rahman Abdullah to both foreground the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’ and at once to reveal its flimsy construction. Searing truths blend with dark humour, courage, fear, sadness and anger to shine a light on new ways to resist and abolish. The multi-talented cast and creative team draw on their intersecting yet distinct cultural and community-informed experiences (Indigenous, people seeking asylum, transgender and settlers of many backgrounds) to ask: who really is in prison here? Together this extraordinary team have drawn on their intersecting yet distinct experiences, responding through choreography, sound and visual art to investigate that which Australia wishes to lock away, to put behind walls and to isolate.

The making of Jurrungu Ngan-ga has required a constant engagement with sadness, anger, resilience and joy. We are honoured to work with this amazing team of collaborators who have brought their own lived experience, bodies, politics, spirit and passion to the making of the show. January 2022

“The team involved in Jurrungu Ngan-ga dove into No Friend but the Mountains as artists and saw special portals. As artists, as people concerned with resistance and an embodied vision for challenging systems, all the people involved in Jurrungu Ngan-ga have a way of seeing, creating and knowing that deeply bordered and colonized spaces will never be able to foster and teach. In radical and powerful spaces like Jurrungu Ngan-ga there is another way to imagine the world. These conversations and actions will continue to grow and influence other space”.

Tofighian, Omid (2021): Horrific Surrealism: New Storytelling for Australia’s Carceral-Border Archipelago in: Marrugeku: Telling That Story—25 years of trans- Indigenous and intercultural performance. Performance Research, Wales.

Jurrungu Ngan-ga [Straight Talk] was commissioned by Carriageworks, International Summer
Festival Kampnagel, Hamburg with Körber-Stiftung and the City of Melbourne through Arts House.

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