Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal

When I reviewed Mirramu Dance Company’s Morning Star on this website back in March of this year I mentioned Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal as one of the performers who really stood out for me. That post received comments from two readers commenting on Jade and her qualities as a performer. Well, last week I had the opportunity to speak to Jade for a preview story for The Canberra Times. Opal Vapour opens in Canberra shortly and I was interested especially in talking to Jade about her Javanese heritage and how it feeds into Opal Vapour.

Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal
Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal

It struck me as we were talking that what I have admired about Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal’s dancing (such as I have seen to date anyway) is the same quality that I have noticed on those occasions when I have watched Javanese performers. I recall walking into a hotel lobby in Yogyakarta (so long ago that Yogyakarta was still spelt with a ‘Dj’ instead of a ‘Y’) where a woman was singing to the sole accompaniment of a stringed instrument, the rebab. The sound was refined and the singer had such power and dignity coursing through her body. It was impossible not to be totally entranced. Even the large rat that scurried across the lobby could not detract from the mesmerising effect this singer and her musician had.

Jade says she is interested in the idea of embodiment in performance, being present to audiences. This idea is clearly part of her practice and largely the reason why her performances are so captivating, just as that Javanese singer was so powerful.

But Jade also talked about feeling very Australian.  Part of the inspiration for Opal Vapour came from the idea of water as a metaphor. She was interested in the idea that water was a life giving force as she watched the Australian drought coming to an end. Water had a power to transform a landscape and she began to think about pouring certain qualities into dance and then pouring them out and inviting other qualities to enter. So the comment that she has ‘an amazing imagination’ is so true.

I can’t wait now to see Opal Vapour, which seems to bring together such a  range of influences, including the power and resilience of Jade’s Javanese heritage. Read more in the story in The Canberra Times, including the meaning of the yellow net seen in the image below.

Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal in 'Opal Vapour'. Photo Paula Van Beek
Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal in Opal Vapour. Photo: © Paula Van Beek

Michelle Potter, 1 June 2013

UPDATE: Here is a link to my review of Opal Vapour published in The Canberra Times on 18 June 2013.

Morning Star. Mirramu Dance Company

1 March 2013, James O Fairfax Theatre, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Morning Star is the result of two years of research and choreographic development between Elizabeth Dalman and her Mirramu Dance Company based in Bungendore, New South Wales, and communities in Arnhem Land. The work is based on a sacred songline of the Yolngu people that deals with birth, life, death and rebirth. The cast of Morning Star consisted of indigenous and non-indigenous artists and the production was assisted by several cultural consultants, including the custodian of the traditional Morning Star story, Banula Marika, and didgeridoo player, Nalkuma Burarrwanga.

What made the show especially memorable, and indeed to my mind quite remarkable, was the way in which dances associated with the traditional songline were juxtaposed with contemporary versions of the same aspect of the story. So we saw, amongst other similar components of the production, a traditional spirit dance celebrating the rising of the morning star followed immediately by a contemporary spirit dance enhanced by powerful Western-style theatrical lighting and choreographed using contemporary dance vocabulary.

A particular highlight for me was a contemporary brolga dance, which in the spirit of the show followed ‘Mulung, Mulung’, a traditional brolga dance. Performed by Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal, a particularly powerful and captivating dancer, the undulating movement of the contemporary choreography expertly captured the notion of a dancing bird. The costume, designed and made by Peta Strachan, was exceptional: a long white, feathery gown with an extended ‘tail’, it was enhanced by a red flower placed on the breast area, which recalled the red plumage the brolga displays around its head.

But I also especially liked watching Albert David who danced strongly throughout and who had a duet with Miranda Wheen towards the end of the show that displayed both his and her technical strengths and strong stage presence. It was a delight too to see Janet and Djakapurra Munyarryun back onstage, in fact often commanding the stage.

I always feel slightly alarmed, however, at the prospect of non-indigenous dancers performing traditional indigenous movement and most of the traditionally-focused sections included non-indigenous dancers working alongside indigenous artists. But to their credit the non-indigenous dancers in Morning Star only occasionally looked out of place. I did find the section called ‘Kinship’ a little jarring though. In it each dancer came forward to explain his or her indigenous heritage or links, including those dancers without an indigenous background who had been adopted into a clan by an indigenous ‘brother’ or ‘mother’ and so on. I’m not sure it was necessary and program notes convey such matters much better I think. The commitment to the project shone through in movement and breaking that feeling with wordy explanations achieved little.

Morning Star was performed in the difficult space of the James O Fairfax Theatre. Its stage has little depth and little wing space and often requires dancers who perform there to radically transform their floor patterns to accommodate the space. But this show fitted beautifully and there were moments when the ambience, helped by a score from Airi Ingram that included the occasional crying child, transported the audience to an imaginary outdoor gathering place.

Morning Star is a beautifully honest show made with love and commitment.

Michelle Potter, 4 March 2013

Featured image: (l–r) Djakapurra Munyarryun, Albert David, Miranda Wheen and Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal in ‘Contemporary Spirit Dance’ from Morning Star. Photo: © 2013 Barbie Robinson