The Chooky Dancers perform their unique version of Zorba the Greek at Melbourne Museum.
Image: Ben Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre proudly welcomed the Chooky Dancers, a group of Aboriginal men from the Northern Territory, to Melbourne Museum last week.
The dancers – barefoot and dressed only in loincloths and ceremonial paint – performed their unique version of Zorba the Greek in two exclusive shows at the museum following their sell-out performance at the 2009 Melbourne International Comedy Festival Gala.
The Chooky Dancers shot to international fame after their version of Zorba the Greek was posted on YouTube. The dance, which combines contemporary and traditional Aboriginal styles, was created by Lionel Dulmanawuy and filmed when the group performed it for their Yolngu Indigenous Clan. Within 12 weeks of being posted on the internet the clip had been viewed more than 500 000 times. It has now been seen by more than one million viewers worldwide.
“I can't tell you enough how excited we were at Bunjilaka to have the opportunity to host this group of talented young men all the way from Arnhem land,” said Caroline Martin, Manager, Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre. “The story behind the Zorba performance is as equally as inspiring as these wonderful performers and the response from our Koorie community and the general public was absolutely amazing. So if you missed the opportunity to see them at the museum make sure you check them out on YouTube – I guarantee you won't be disappointed!"
Lionel was inspired to create the dance by his very good Greek friend Liliane, who for a time helped care for his disabled sister in Darwin before returning to Greece. The relationship between the Yolngu family and Liliane’s Greek family was the main inspiration behind the dance and is a way of saying thank you to Liliane.
The Chooky Dancers' publicist, Josh Bond, said the performance has been an eye-opener to the outside world, and its popularity had provided great opportunities for the men to travel around Australia and perform. Their appearances have included the 2009 Sydney Festival, The Dreaming Festival and Out of the Box Festival in Brisbane, as well as on Channel Seven’s Australia’s Got Talent.
And now they’re working with director Nigel Jamieson on a theatre production of their story for the Adelaide Festival in 2010, where their skills will extend to learning lines and acting.
“They really took to it,” said Josh. “They’re natural actors. All the theatre practitioners and people who have seen them have been impressed.”
It’s no surprise really. For these Yolngu men, the elements of performance are already deeply entrenched in their culture.
“Aboriginal society is all community based,” said Josh. “Everyone’s used to being in front of other people and talking publicly and being on the stage. In this case their stage is the dance ground in front of their own community.”
The funny dancing and comedic element of their performance also had its origins in their community, explained Lionel. “It’s a tradition in a young boy’s initiation ceremony. You make up stupid dances and do them at the ceremony to make it more of a fun day for the young boy. Zorba the Greek is an extension of that.”
A visit to Greece is in the works for the Chooky Dancers, where their interpretation of Zorba the Greek has caused quite a buzz. Another project is a Bollywood version of their story. “Yolnguwood or Aboriginalwood,” Josh said with a grin.
But their dream gig? They want to open the AFL grand final. During their trip to Melbourne they visited Windy Hill, home of the Essendon Bombers, where they met some of the players.
Now the Chooky Dancers are back home in Elcho Island resting, working on new stuff and sitting around telling the stories of their travels to the family.
“They always go back as superstars,” Josh said with a laugh.