Big hART is a company I had heard alot about- primarilly through Mr Waites but also through the delightful Christopher Saunders (one of the Big hART producers) I had met on one of my various foyer adventures. So no surprise when I heard that their recent show Nyuntu Ngali was having a brief run in Sydney, I thought I would darken the doorway of Wharf 2 at the STC to check it out.

According to it’s website: www.bighart.org –
Big hART is committed to the arts and social change. We are also committed to experimentation and innovation and as such the style, shape, size and work of the company is always changing.

Big hART works to:
– make sustained changes with disadvantaged communities
– take the issues faced by these communities and make them visible in the public sphere
– influence social policy
– create high quality cultural activity which drives personal, community, and regional development
– produce critically acclaimed, high quality art for local, national and international audiences.

These are principals I very much believe in and I was keen to see some of this work in practice. It never ceases to amaze me how much amazing work happens outside of the glaring glittering spotlight of major theatre companies- and how important the work is- not in a big “I” important, patronizing way, not in an “eat your vegetables they are good for you” kind of way… it’s important because for audiences, sometimes a simple story, told skillfully is all you need to see… its all you want to see… without all the peacock strutting and the dazzle of celebrity. Sometimes, you just want to be entertained by something heartfelt- and that’s what this show is- heartfelt, clever, entertaining and whollisticly inclusive.

Impressively, at the opening of this season, Trevor Jamieson (performer and long time collaborator with Rankin) gave a brief, elegant speech after the train of hierachical thankyous were dispatched ( PS Mr Upton, an acknowledgement to the traditional owners would have been nice) giving the audience permission to engage with the story, as a human story of connectedness- not a story of guilt or blame or shame. Jamieson handed the play to the audience, inviting them to feel apart , not separated out from the story- which is really what theatre is all about- not alienation but inclusivity of shared experience- the human experience.

It’s only on for a wink of time- and I think if you like dance, and want to see something a little different from what the STC programmes in Wharf 1, Nyuntu Ngali will not disappoint.

First published www.australianstage.com.au

A twisted white ribbon, stretched across Sydney Theatre Company’s Wharf 2 Theatre twirls in a single light. Nyuntu Ngali (Pitjantjatjara for ”You We Two”) begins simply. A single figure pushing a large box across the landscape of the space- it’s heavy. The story starts simply as many great stories do – a birth.

It is the outback in the 22nd Century. Life as we know it now, has been mythologized as a time when there was petrol and ipods for all, when the pursuit of love was aided by vodka cruises and pop music and when communication was predominantly in the form of mobile phones. Two teenagers, Roam (Derek Lynch) and Eva (Anne Golding), are on the run from their families- on account of their “wrong- way marriage.” Eva is pregnant with Roam’s baby and after the birth, after some discussion- Roam and Eva embrace their family and set about creating a life with one another- ill-equipped as they feel they are as teenage parents.

Writer/Director Scott Rankin has harnessed a plethora of remarkable talent in the creation of Nyuntu Ngali – two fascinating companies- community based Big hART and youth/family centric Windmill Theatre, the wide ranging talents of people who contributed to workshops in Ernabella, Mimili and Adelaide, the advice of the Pitjantjatjara people, a range of artists including Gina Rings (Choreographer), Nigel Levings (Lighting Designer), Beth Sometimes (Musical Director & Community Producer & Musician), Elliat Rich (Objects Designer) Nick Higgins (AV Creator/Operator), Jennifer Wells (musician) and three incredibly skilled and magnetic actors, Derek Lynch, Anne Golding and Trevor Jamieson.

Rankin has created a unique and multi-facetted production- one which speaks to us about the need to look back in order to look forward. Though sophisticated, this is a beautiful story, surprising and frequently funny in an “I’m embarrassed I recognise the truth/horror in that bit” kind of way. The story and the production process itself speaks of the power of community influence and the redefinition and the value of passing on and sharing culture.

The story is beautiful and simple- reaching back into the canon of western literature- and translating and reframing a love story for a new audience. Although Roam and Eva are in exile, abandoned in gaping silence of the desert and a post-oil reality, love continues to endure- not a smooth or complacent love- but love which is duty-bound, effort inspiring. Despite it’s temporal shift- Nyuntu Ngali is just as much as a reflection of who we are now as a society, as much as a cautionary tale: when the oil runs out, when the pursuit of “excess” is no longer the common human experience- what will we have? What will we do? What will we know? And what will matter most?