Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Burning Daylight

Presented by Salamanca Arts Centre and Mobile State
Hobart, November 26–27 2009

by Stephenie Cahalan

It says much about the quality of a story that is so firmly of a place, that it can be told anywhere and lose none of its impact. Burning Daylight — a story of prejudice, cultural mistrust and love’s subsequent suffering — resonated strongly in Hobart, despite being so drastically distant from Broome in every way.

This production tells a truly sad story of the wrongs done to people decades ago, and the depth of sadness that has pervaded subsequent generations. Set in Broome on one of those long booze-sodden nights, Burning Daylight mixes contemporary dance rooted in Aboriginal traditions, Japanese Butoh, film, rap and karaoke pop/love songs. Live guitar, haunting harmonica juxtaposed with caricatured karaoke, classic key-word rap and a really great bass to pull it all together made for a very cool musical experience.

Dalisa Pigram is pivotal to the production, as co-conceiver, choreographer, and performer. Pigram is fortunate to have Patrick Dodson as her grandfather to consult on the diplomacy of telling old stories without upsetting the protocols of the elders of the region. And Dodson, must feel pretty lucky to have this skilled, articulate performer as his granddaughter, linking generations of storytellers and audiences via the modern means available and necessary to reach Australians, Indigenous and otherwise.

Like the recent release of the biography of Ronnie Summers, (the Cape Barren Island elder and musician) and the enormous success of Samson and Delilah, Burning Daylight is another powerful means of educating all Australians about the way life is and was for people that have got the very short end of the historical stick, be they be the original Australians or newer members of the community, such as the Japanese and Malay characters we meet. Stories have been the essence of cultural exchange, social cohesion and daily education for Indigenous folk before and since white occupation, so it is no surprise — but no less of a thrill — to see storytellers such as these in action. With a director like Rachel Swain, whose pre-Olympics production of Mimi stirred the spirits lurking in its Centennial Park ‘venue’ in Sydney, and the stage prowess of Trevor Jamieson, Burning Daylight was bound to leave an imprint. Hobart musician Matther Fargher, who recently contributed to the Tasmanian play in development Origins, is once again displaying his talent for mixing cultural ingredients and I have yet to see anything by set-designer Joey Riogrok Van Der Werven that I haven’t loved.

So in this nation, troubled by a parlous inequality between Indigenous and other Australians, Burning Daylight has given me a tiny clue of what I can do. I can make sure I hear and see the stories that are now so accessible — in bookstores, on radio, in theatres everywhere. I am not so naïve to think that plays and music are going to alleviate the consequences of entrenched despair that too many people are living, but surely with education comes understanding, and with that comes action. And with the creativity and intelligence of artists such as these, the solutions will unfold with the trickle-down effect of success and empowerment.

There is no happy ending in Burning Daylight, but the vibrancy of the performers and their impact makes it a tale of power and survival. The audience is left with hope that is not written into the script, but purely in the telling of the story.

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