Muniak Mulana (Future Spirit) review by Lyn Zelen

Muniak Mulana (future spirit) stirs your senses and encapsulates injustices in Australian history. La Mama Courthouse transforms into a picturesque bush setting to tell an ethereal story in dance and song. The collaborative and innovative story by artists Brent Watkins (Culture Evolves) and Neil Morris (DRMNGNOW) is part of Melbourne Fringe Festival.

‘Future spirit’, in Dreamtime storytelling, is ‘always present’ and a constant reminder of the stolen generations, and the life-affirming ‘pulse’ and rejuvenation capabilities of the Wurundjeri people.

Muniak Mulana is set on the stolen lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nations, in Naarrm (Melbourne). Leave the concrete jungle and city smog behind to wake up your mind with a story of interpretive dance, poetic verse, rap and the sounds of synthesized positive vibrations.

All your senses come alive and your nose is treated to the smell of crisp eucalyptus leaves in the bush setting. Brent Watkins exceptional brand of traditional dance fused with current hip-hop moves compliments the thought-provoking poems, lyrical talents, and extraordinary electronic sound design from Neil Morris.

The sun dawns as the harmonic birds begin their organic rhythm. A Brolga bird (Watkins) extends, stretches, and flaps its wings to Morris’s ingenious, electronic ambient tunes that mimic the voices of the stirring flora and fauna.

The lush wood surrounds dotted with native flora and the dancing brolga encircles a mound of eucalypt leaves. Watkins light-footed steps celebrate and articulate the brolga’s freedom of expression. Watkins elastic body then morphs into other local fauna. He’s mesmerising as he blends traditional hip-hop popping and locking dance moves to embody an emu and kangaroo.

In this interpretation, the brolga evolves into an Aboriginal man foraging around the country for food and shelter, being mindful not to leave any harmful environmental footsteps. Then he spies tall ships in the bay and the strange beings coming ashore. Watkins masterful choreography describes the capture of the first nation people and their incarceration.

Morris emerges from beneath kangaroo and possum pelts to discuss the disastrous events of 1788 with de-colonisation poetry. Then in a powerful rap, he addresses the forced removal of children from their mothers’, the ravages of alcoholism and the misinterpretations of a proud and peaceful people. Audience heads nod and feet tapped to the infectious and contemporary tune. It’s obvious why Morris’s haunting lyrics and tracks have received local and worldwide acclaim.

The ‘future spirit’ was mysteriously ‘present’ during the traditional smoking ceremony in the camp (facilitated by a smoke machine). A large cloud of smoke hung over Watkins head while he performed a muscle-contorting dance depicting ‘deaths in custody’. I assume this was intentional. If not, the highly effective, emotionally charged scene was one of many in the fifty-minute performance.

The productions purposeful lighting was accompanied by a confrontational background exposition and Watkins was spot lit in deep red throughout his destructive dance of ‘cultural genocide’.

Earlier, the audience received an excerpt of Morris’s insightful prose on our seats. He emphasises a particular passage of the proposed denouncement of Aboriginality from mining magnate, Lang Hancock. Listen out for his shocking words in a recorded interview.

Watkins, Morris and the multi-talented production team, re-create an astonishing visual and spiritual reminder; Australia once possessed free will and sovereignty.