What's On

Jurrungu Ngan-ga [Straight Talk]


Presented in RISING 2022

Presented by Arts House and RISING

Wed 1 – Sat 11 Jun, 2022
Wed 1, 8pm
Thu 2 – Sat 4, 7pm
Tue 7, 7pm
Wed 8, 2pm & 7pm
Thu 9 – Fri 10, 9pm
Sat 11, 5pm


General Admission $50
Concession $45
A small transaction fee will be charged per order.

Recommended for ages 15+
Contains depictions of violence, racial abuse and police/border security brutality as well as references to self-harm. It contains the names of people who have passed away. 
The performance contains partial nudity and low level strobe light. 

Arts House
North Melbourne Town Hall
521 Queensberry St
North Melbourne

Read our COVID-19 Safety Plan here.

Assistance Animal
Assistive Listening
Wheelchair Accessible
Quiet Space Available
Companion Card

A provocation in dance challenging Australia’s fixation with incarceration.

In a mesmerising multimedia dance production Jurrungu Ngan-ga reflects on the overrepresentation of First People in custody, and the years-long detention of refugees. It’s a story told from within the prison of the Australian mind.

Translated from Yawuru as “straight talk”, Jurrungu Ngan-ga takes its inspiration from the words and experiences of Yawuru leader Patrick Dodson, Kurdish Iranian writer and former Manus Island detainee Behrouz Boochani, and Iranian-Australian scholar-activist Omid Tofighian.

With characteristic dedication, First Peoples and intercultural dance company Marrugeku bridges cultures, communities and identities. Embodying figments of the Australian psyche, the performers deftly move between dark humour, horror, truth-telling and bodily resistance. Jurrungu Ngan-ga’s performers-from First Peoples, refugee, transgender and settler communities-employ their skill and courage to shine a light on new ways to resist and abolish.

“It is exquisite and unmissable.” – Arts Hub 

“a radically provocative piece of dance theatre where audiences learn in emotive detail about systems of power and control”– The Conversation

“For all the sadness and anger at its heart, ‘Jurrungu Ngan-ga‘ burns with ferocious, life affirming passion.”
– The Australian


Artist Statement

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.

About the Artists

Marrugeku is an unparalleled presence in Australia today, dedicated to Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians working together to develop new dance languages that are restless, transformative and unwavering. Marrugeku is led by co-artistic directors: choreographer/dancer Dalisa Pigram and director/dramaturg Rachael Swain. Working together for 27 years, they co-conceive and facilitate Marrugeku’s productions and research laboratories, introducing audiences to the unique and potent structures of Indigenous knowledge systems and the compelling experience of intercultural performance.

Working from our bicoastal operations in the remote town of Broome Western Australia and the urban Centre of Carriageworks, Sydney, Marrugeku harnesses the dynamic of performance exchange drawn from remote, urban, intercultural and trans-Indigenous approaches to expand the possibilities of contemporary dance. Our productions tour throughout urban and remote Australia, to other Indigenous contexts internationally and throughout the world.


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)
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

Far from Home
Farhad Bandesh and Anna Liebzeit (composition)
Farhad Bandesh
(recorded vocals sung in Kurdish)

The Ha Dub Rewerk’d
MikeQ (composer and performer) Jalangurru Wiyi
Emmanuel James Brown
(live vocals sung in Bunuba)

Additional instrumental recordings: Natasha Rumiz – Viola

Co-devising Performers: Czack (Ses) Bero, Emmanuel James Brown, Chandler Connell, Luke Currie-Richardson, Issa el Assaad, Macon Riley, Bhenji Ra, Feras Shaheen and Miranda Wheen

Production Manager & Lighting Operator: Aiden Brennan
Audio Technician: Raine Paul
Company Manager: Denise Wilson
Producer: Natalie Smith

Supported by
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. Marrugeku is funded by the Australian Government through the Australia Council its arts funding and advisory body, the Government of Western Australian through the Department of Local Government Sport and Cultural Industries, Create NSW, the Australian Government through the Indigenous Language and Arts Program, the Nelson Meers Foundation, and International Summer Festival Kampnagel, Hamburg (in the frame of “Exile Today – Production Residencies for Artists” by Kampnagel and Körber- Stiftung). Supported by the DARA Foundation and the Dancing Architects.

Image credit: Prudence Upton

Image description: A group of people are dancing on stage wearing shades of blue. A shirtless man on the left has his arms outstretched, while other dancers stand in front of him to the right of the image. They appear to be cheering him on with expressions of excitement and shock on their faces.  

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Artist Statement by Dalisa Pigram and Rachael Swain

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