Review: CO_EX_EN, QPAC (QLD)

Impressive and evocative, Karul Projects’ performance tells the story of a cultural site on Bundjalung country.

With CO_EX_EN, Karul Projects presents its second show at QPAC this season, following mi:wi. CO_EX_EN interlaces tradition and modernity by fusing together traditional Aboriginal dances and expressive dance to tell the story of a site of culture on Bundjalung country. This was a place of ceremony and gathering, a site for the transmission of culture. The violence of colonisation has disrupted the function of this site, and so too the communities that gathered there.

The choreography is designed and produced by Thomas E.S. Kelly, a talented artist and proud Bundjalung-Yugambeh, Wiradjuri and Ni-Vanuatu man. It relies on timing and rhythm to produce synchronicities of clapping, transmissions of movements, and alternated pulses. The five dancers, Kelly included, bring the choreography to life with great energy and expressivity. They slide into and from the dark with impressive evocative effects. Their stomping, spiralling movements and arm gestures leave a mark on stage.

The stage design is minimalist and the costumes simple. The stage is composed of a few neon strings pending from the ceiling over one side of the stage. The five dancers wear spare black clothes that do not demand attention from the audience. These features of the scenography allow the audience to develop a multi-sensory experience that is not monopolized by vision. This is also aided by a remarkable stage effect of vibration felt coming from underneath the seats.

The evocative dance draws the audience in, and towards the end of show, the production is made explicitly interactive as well as didactic. Kelly recites as the spirit of the ancestors guarding the site of culture. With this speech, he helps the audience make sense of the dance, remarking that connection with cultural practices and sites is vital for Aboriginal peoples to come back to their power after colonisation. Kelly also invites the audience to pronounce ‘karul’, a Yugambeh word which means ‘everything’.

Karul Projects is a performing arts company that creates reconciliation through art, telling ‘stories of Indigenous knowledge and its relevance and responsibility in modern and future Australia’s identity.’ The company has just relocated to Brisbane, so watch this space, Brisbane!

4 stars out of 5 ★★★★

Karul Projects
Choreographer: Thomas E.S. Kelly
Rehearsal Director: Taree Sansbury
Performers: Thomas E.S. Kelly, Taree Sansbury, Libby Montilla, Nadia Martich, Neville Williams Boney
Lighting Designer: Cheryn Frost
Sound Designer: Alyx Dennison
Dramaturg: Vicki Van Hout
Cultural Consultant: Amarlee Kelly
Cultural Consultant: Ngajin Magpie
12-15 February 2020
QPAC Playhouse, QLD
Tickets $35

Federica Caso
About the Author
Federica Caso is a political analyst and writer. She has recently completed her PhD in International Politics at the University of Queensland. Her research focuses on the politics of aesthetics and art. She is interested in how art and culture are co-opted in systems of power and domination, and used as instruments of political resistance. She has written, hosted events, and facilitated discussions about the politics of aesthetics. She is a board member of House Conspiracy, an art centre located in West End, Brisbane.