‘Arterial’ was unifying.
The Ron Hurley Theatre served as a home for Na Dijnang to present their circus theatre production ‘Arterial’ as a part of the first CIRCfest Meanjin, a new festival celebrating the art of circus and physical theatre. It is the latest offering from the Melbourne-based First Nations-led circus theatre company. The piece seeks to exhibit the present state of Aboriginal communities and their connection with the natural world.
Circus and acrobatics are the perfect performance method for a show like ‘Arterial’ because they rely so crucially on the performers having trust in each other, and in themselves, which mirrors so much of the core of the show’s message of community. The performers physically rely on each other for much of the stunts and aerial performances, possibly an allegory for the lived experience of Aboriginal people. In their words, the show demonstrates how ‘unseen bonds between the body and the land become beautifully visible’ – and we couldn’t have said it better. The show was a celebration of the power that people can have over one another – to save and to support as we journey through life.
The most astounding element of contemporary circus theatre is how it forces devisers and performers to use just their physical attributes to tell a story, as the show had minimal music and visual effects. Harvey Mann, Waka Waka man and the founder of Na Dijnang, has lovingly and gracefully crafted a story that speaks to the current condition of Aboriginal Australia, delving deep into the pain that manifests from genocide and marginalisation, but also soaring to the thumping beat of bombastic community love and connection. The ensemble, made up of Aboriginal dancers and acrobats Maggie Church Kopp, Dylan Singh and Tamara Bouman, were incredibly articulate in their movements and had a deeply moving physical relationship with one another.
The mention of the word “circus” typically conjures images of a bawdy ring leader commanding a band of performers from under a colourful big top, but the contemporary circus is so much more, and the possibility for it to become a dynamic form of storytelling has come to fruition with shows like ‘Arterial’.
The stage was adorned with a border of leaves in which the performers interacted, drawing forth stories from within their beings and encapsulating all of the action on stage. It was as if everything that the performers did drew back to the omnipresence of nature. The performers wore simple, earth-coloured garments that harked back to the natural connection to country present in Aboriginal culture.
Shows like ‘Arterial’ are the beating heart of Australian storytelling-powerful, provoking and fiercely entertaining. They challenge how white audience members perceive Aboriginal communities and create an environment of introspection into how we can be better allies to First Nations peoples. ‘Arterial’ inspires viewers to do something with what they’ve witnessed – going beyond the boundaries of the theatre walls and deep into the minds of audiences.
‘Arterial’ performed until Saturday, 30 April 2022 at the Ron Hurley Theatre. For more information visit Na Jinang’s website.