If you were lucky enough to catch YouTube superstars The Chooky Dancers in their first full-length theatre production, Wrong Skin, at the Sydney Opera House last month, you might have marvelled at their funky yet fluid moves, their youthful vigour, or their ingenious blend of western and traditional Indigenous dance styles. What you might not have known is that the show’s main protagonist, Indigenous dancer Rarriwuy Hick, is a neighbour of yours.
For the Lilyfield local, dancing comes almost as naturally as breathing. Rarriwuy’s mother Janet Munyarryun, a native of Arnhem Land, was a founding member of premier Australian Aboriginal dance company Bangarra, and boasts among her colleagues such luminaries as Stephen Page and Christine Anu.
“Mum was dancing at Bangarra when she was pregnant with me and she took me to all the rehearsals and performances after I was born,” Rarriwuy says.
From there, the learning process came naturally – and to excellent effect.
Directed by Nigel Jamieson, Wrong Skin is a fresh and inventive fusion of hip-hop dance, traditional Aboriginal dance, and West Side Story-type choreography, which tells the story of two star-crossed lovers, teenagers from different Aboriginal kinship groups who are not allowed to marry – a ‘wrong skin’ relationship.
“It’s a play that’s based on Romeo and Juliet – it has that forbidden love, young love story,” says Rarriwuy of the production.
Born in Sydney, but dividing her time between Lilyfield, where she went to school, and her mother’s community in Arnhem Land, Rarriwuy has fully embraced the customs and ways of both her mother’s people and her English-born father, Paul Hick. The experience, she says, has given her a deep appreciation for both.
“I’ve lived in two completely different worlds. In my mother’s community, people don’t speak English and they live off the land,” she says.
“My mother inspired me to dance and be in the arts. But if it weren’t for my father, I wouldn’t have got an education or been able to experience the city lifestyle.”
At 20 years of age, this consummate performer is just getting started. Already she has set up her own production company, Black Cockatwo, along with rapper partner Corey Webster. Earlier this year, at the annual Garma Festival in Arnhem Land, one of the Indigenous community’s premier cultural events, the two ran hip-hop workshops for Indigenous youth in an effort to spread their art and help boost the confidence of children from remote communities.
“I’ve seen a lot of Aboriginal kids who have low self-esteem,” she says. “They don’t know how to ask questions or they’re too shy, especially kids from remote communities. My motivation now is to help those kids. The lesson I draw from it is that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, you can achieve anything if you work hard enough.”
by Tamara Smallhorn