It was the Zorba the Greek dance that kicked off The Chooky Dancers’ decade of success. A mash-up of the popular Greek song and Yolngu-style dancing from north-east Arnhem Land, the video now has 2.6 million views on YouTube.
In 2013, the group changed its name to Djuki Mala: Djuki meaning “chook” and Mala meaning “group of people with the same features”. Originally from Elcho Point, off the coast of the Northern Territory, Djuki Mala has performed around Australia and the world to critical acclaim.
The group celebrates pop culture and Yolngu history by blending traditional and contemporary dance and music elements, reinterpreting the likes of Michael Jackson and Gene Kelly with high-energy and comedic choreography.
Vibrant costumes make hilarious references to both popular styles and traditional ceremonial dancing. The group’s new show intersperses dance with videos of interviews with family members and elders discussing the importance of maintaining Yolngu culture. These conversations help shape the ark of the performance.
“This show looks at the genesis of Djuki Mala and references the intimate moments that have shaped the group and the challenges we’ve faced,” says artistic director Joshua Bond.
“Djuki Mala creates an angle for non-Indigenous people to engage with Indigenous culture in a really joyous way. People are hungry for it, and that appetite is growing. ”
The group’s chemistry is part of Djuki Mala’s appeal. Keen observers will notice plenty of shared smiles and laughter between the performers on stage.
“How we interact behind the scenes affects our performance,” says dancer Tibian Christopha Wyles. “If you chill with us for a day, you’ll have a six-pack from laughing so much.”
Djuki Mala performs as part of Fringe World at the Salon Perdu Spiegeltent in The Pleasure Garden (Russell Square, Northbridge) until Tuesday February 14. Tickets are $44 + BF and are available online