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That’s a Wrap

Interviews with the artists of August UnWrapped

Find out more about UnWrapped

The second UnWrapped series built on the Sydney Opera House’s commitment to foster deeper industry connections and new audiences. Split, Ich Nibber Dibber and Mojo Juju: Native Tongue are exemplary works by Australian artists that deserve a wide audience. They all had strong critical reception. 

Split: ★★★★★ Sydney Morning Herald; “Smart, inventive and intimate” Dance Life

Ich Nibber Dibber: ★★★★ “Brilliant, irreverent, autobiographical theatre” Sydney Morning Herald

Mojo Juju: Native Tongue: "Powerful and moving" Witness Performance

We talked to the artists behind each of these unique performances. 

Mojo Juju

What inspired you to write about your family and growing up in modern Australia?

I had a few encounters that made me start to wonder, in my lifetime, how far have we really progressed as a society, in regards to our attitudes about race, identity and what it means to be Australian.

I was reflecting on my own identity, how others perceive me and how their perceptions have shaped my own idea of self. Simultaneously, I was thinking about my elders, ancestors, their stories and the way their stories inform who I am.

So, I wanted to write an album that addressed the inherently political aspects of identity, in the most personal way possible. Though the telling of my experience and my family history. I wrote the album and I decided it was important for me to tell the stories behind the songs as well.

Image: Anna Kucera

How did your parents respond when they heard the songs that feature them?

Haha! They haven’t necessarily heard them all yet. But so far so good. They are very supportive.

Where did you grow up in Australia? What is your strongest memory from your hometown?

We moved around a lot when I was growing up. Mostly through regional NSW. I went to high school in Dubbo, which is where my mum is from.

I’ve got a lot of memories about that place, but the strongest one is of my grandparents’ house. That’s my favourite place anyhow.

When did you realise you were culturally different, and how has this impacted you?

I think I really became aware of it around the time I started school. Kids would call me names… mostly Asian slurs.

I didn’t really understand why those things were hurtful, but I understood that they were intended to be. Luckily my grandmother shared some of her wisdom with me. I guess it’s taught me resilience.

Who are you listening to at the moment?

I’ve been listening to a lot of Australian artists lately. There’s so much talent coming up right now, especially from young people of colour. I’ve been loving Kaiit, Adrian Eagle, P-Unique and also old faves like Kira Puru, Remi and Ecca Vandal.

What do you hope to convey to your audience through your songs and stories?

I guess I am hoping that other PoC, people from mixed race backgrounds and First Nations people will find something can connect to. Something that unifies us or comforts those who have similar stories. For everyone else, I hope it offers insight into the conversation around identity politics from a very real and extremely personal perspective.


Lucy Guerin

What compelled you to create Split?

Having done several large scale commissions in recent years I was keen to spend some time in a less pressured and more flexible environment to engage with the fundamental elements of choreography. Working on a smaller scale work with Melanie and Lilian, dancers who I knew very well, allowed me some time to experiment and play with a number of different ideas which eventually resulted in Split. I also wanted to make something that had one trajectory. Although made up of many parts, Split is built around a single structural idea.

What or who are your greatest choreographic influences?

In no particular order: The downtown New York dance scene of the ‘90s; post-modernism, the Velvet Underground, my Melbourne peers, Franz Kafka, Russell Dumas, early horror movies I watched as a child; ballet; David Lynch; repetition; visual art; Tere O’Connor; my family; many choreographers and theatre makers; minimalism; materials from hardware stores; YouTube; current events; music; and all the dancers I have worked with.

Due to the work’s escalating intensity and intrigue, and its openness for interpretation, there have likely been many different readings of Split. What have been the most surprising or unusual readings?

Overpopulation, climate change, two aspects of the same person grappling for supremacy, a struggle within a relationship. Perhaps two of the most unusual for me were the colonisation of Australia, and eating disorders. I welcome all these interpretations.

Image: Gregory Lorenzutti.

The dancers create palpable tension in the work. What is the intent behind this tension?

The tension is inherent in the structure of the dance and builds as it reaches its inevitable end. The two dancers have to negotiate decreasing space and time until they both run out.

How has making Split impacted your career and future work?

Split feels like a return to a really intense focus on the elements of choreography, time, space and movement, which was my main interest when I first began choreographing. Split is a combination of improvised movement devised by the dancers and set choreographic material created by me. In my next work I will be looking at the agency of the dancer within a choreographic framework. Through layering choreographed and improvised material there will be a tension between the individuality of the dancer and the homogenising effect of set steps. I am really interested in how Split manages to affect people through the setting up of an abstract structure rather than through representing character or story and will continue to explore this in my next work.

Split is a small scale work and easy to tour. It will be presented in eleven cities internationally this year which means that it can connect with places that we have never travelled to before and reach a wide audience.

Why are Melanie and Lilian the perfect dancers for this work?

Both Melanie and Lilian have a sense of intrigue and mystery. They are both dancers who are capable of intricate detail and a contained sense of drama, things that are important elements of my choreography. And they are both dancers who do not try to force attention from the audience, but draw you into their physical and mental space. I like to work with dancers who make you sit forward and engage with the work rather than remain a passive spectator.

Ich Nibber Dibber

Post (Zoë Coombs Marr, Nat Rose and Mish Grigor)

Without giving too much away, what are audiences about to get themselves into?

An hour with three friends who know each other too well, having those conversations too cringeworthy for public consumption…for over a decade. You’ll see us grow up from clueless twenty year olds, barely faking our way into adulthood, to the still clueless craggy grown ups you see today.

What is your favourite moment during your decade-long history of working together?

Too many to count! Mish’s vote went for a recordbreaking McDonalds effort by Zoë, Nat’s went for a time Mish lost her voice, Zoë remembered a pie factory altercation, and then we all remembered we once watched Nat give birth to a live human being. That probably takes the cake.

What does Ich Nibber Dibber mean?

Technically, it doesn't mean anything. It’s a nonsense phrase, the end point of in-joke banter that’s gone on so long nobody can remember where it started, and it’s taken on multiple different meanings, a bit like this show. But symbolically? Well…

What are the ingredients that make up your typical theatre making process?

An idea, an impossible idea, lots of YouTube, a few fags and a break. Some books, more books, a lot of highlighters, a small fight. Too much time, big ambition, failure. Magic tricks, junk food, lycra, curtains, olympic opening ceremonies, pop music, gender theory, and a creepy obsession with the audience.

Who is the funniest between you?

A very political question! We did a show once where we ranked each other on everything. As it turns out, that can get a bit heated – so we'd better leave people to make their own decisions. (Although let the record show that at this point in the discussion Nat’s just said “NAT! It’s me! It’s Nat, put Nat”, so there you go. Nat.)

Is there anything you haven't talked about?

We haven't discussed the details of the last couple of days. We are in three different cities right now. So we'll probably get around to it eventually.

Why use comedy to engage with issues of gender, identity and politics?

Why not? Actually, we learnt pretty early on that just by being three women onstage is inherently political. Even if we tried to avoid it, our work would still be politicised. So for us it’s not a question of why, but how could we possibly not?