Phunktional’s ‘Beyond The Walls’ at Sydney Opera House

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There was a great sense of warmth, community and encouragement at this performance at the Opera House by Phunktional.
The evening was enthusiastically emceed by Phunktional Founder and Artistic Director Gerard Veltre , who explained how the show came about and introduced the works.

Earlier this year, Beyond the Wall visited two NSW youth justice centres – Frank Baxter and Reiby Youth Justice Centre, twice a week for six weeks. They worked with the young people aged 11 to 19, incarcerated there, encouraging them to share their experiences and stories in the form of dance and directing the dancers. Together they found a collective voice for their individual experiences. Since 2007 Phunktional has collaborated with artists on projects across the country, and more than 350,000 people have been a part of or seen their work.

This Sydney Opera House performance featured Australia’s best B Girl, Demi Serono (So You Think You Can Dance, Blaze); recognised Aboriginal dancer, Glen Thomas; Torres Strait Islander model and dancer, Hans Ahwang; B Boy Anastasios Repousis and Aroha Pehi with live music by DJ Wasabi.

It drew on Indigenous life and culture and choreographically was a blend of contemporary and hip- hop/breakdance and traditional Indigenous dance. The five professional dancers embodied the voices of these young people, the heartfelt stories of their past and their hope for the future.

The striking lighting – using a huge rig – was extremely atmospheric and dramatic , sometimes dappled , other times washes of colour . Most of the music was recorded as played by DJ Wasabi The first piece was a set of traditional Indigenous dances, with children from the Redfern Commu- nity Centre. The women wore white ochre face makeup and performed a basket dance with angular arms and strong hands, forming a circle.The men had a dance too and it ended with everyone circling and leaving the stage.

Veltre then spoke about the work of Phunktional and placed it in context and explained the workshops and collaboration that had occurred. We then saw a work that was strong and dramatic, about indigenous relationship to land and culture and being trapped in Justice centres. It opened with a trio in a rocklike huddle with sand falling in a circle of light ( quite Bangarra-ish in style ) .Eventually they stand and stretch. One of the them has a rippling, showy solo and plays the didgeridoo . The other two remain standing and perform traditional Indigenous steps with fluid birdlike arms. Two more men appear ( guards? ) and take away the didgeridoo , which is attached to a silver stand with chains. There is a dance – off argument of different dance styles , a tender , intimate duet , a slithery , anguished solo for one of the men … a breathless sarcastic hip-hop solo becomes a trio but then fade to black, with the silver stand and didgeridoo …

Then , from the young men in Frank Baxter came Angels and Demons , some performers in black clothes some in white – an angry dialogue ( ‘anything you can do I can do better ‘) and showcasing some incredible , almost death defying hip hop dance blended with traditional Indigenous phrases of movement and showy sexy moves . Some of the children ( and adults involved ) were encouraged on stage at the end

The audience absolutely loved it and roared their approval. DJ Wasabi then had a solo with spectacular lighting.

Another work then followed, again drawing on Indigenous culture , the woman ‘ making bread’ , one man as a kangaroo , who is speared by another – but is it a dream? They sit in a circle for a ‘fire’ like dance which then becomes rain .Throughout there is the insistent beat of clapping sticks . The dancers then smear white ochre on their bodies , one man becoming wriggling and lizard like.

This transforms into a section where the two men mirror each other -are they two halves of the one person ? which leads to all five main dancers on stage and again a blend of hip- hop and traditional Indigenous moves. They sit down and there is a quivery dance just using hands and arms with pulsating lighting.

To bring the evening to a close Veltre then announced the winner of this year’s Noel Tovey award. Tovey is an Australian dancer, actor, mentor, director and choreographer. This year’s award went to Eboni Lloyd.

BEYOND THE WALLS was a wonderful celebration of strength and resilience, community and acknowledgement of Indigenous life art and culture.

Running time 90 minutes no interval

BEYOND THE WALLS, brought to us by Phunktional, was at the Sydney Opera House for one performance only 12 Dec 2019.

Author: Lynne Lancaster