Review: A Hop, Skip and a Dance

Jasmin Sheppard danced for women everywhere in her performance on the streets of Melbourne for Barring Yanabul, writes Monique Grbec. Blak Critics is a YIRRAMBOI initiative giving voice to First Nations writers and critics.

Barring Yanabul, in the Boonwurrung and Woiwurrung languages, translates as ‘we all walk the same path’.

A much-loved feature event in YIRRAMBOI Festival’s biennial calendar, this citywide Blak-out gives emerging and established First Nations creatives, as well as community organisations, an opportunity to show their talents. To bare their heart and soul, share experiences, and brandish even the most outlandish ideals.

The works, taking over a multitude of city spaces and laneways, are always thoughtful and evocative, and some will draw your breath with their absolute beauty and raw authenticity. Regularly smart and sassy, they offer a cutting commentary on diversity and Indigenous existence in contemporary Australia. In a world of sitting, YIRRAMBOI’s Barring Yanabul asks us to walk together.

This year a community exhibit by Rumbalara Football Netball Club in conjunction with Polyglot Theatre offered us a chance to skip along Chapter House Lane with the kids in First On The Ladder: Shopfront, while Royal Lane sprung to life thanks to Ngarigo artist Peter Waples-Crowe working with the Aboriginal Youth Art Collective. Embracing the lightness of heart that comes with seeing the creative expression of children, here we could envision the future bolder and brighter, and even when in monotone, somehow more colourful.

Just around the corner, by the iconic steps of Flinders Street Station, dancer and choreographer Jasmin Sheppard, Bangarra Dance Theatre alum, danced for all women everywhere. Drawing an awesome, awestruck crowd with Choice Cuts, she emerged from a giant clamshell to stand tall and beautiful with long luscious locks like Botticelli’s classic painting The Birth of Venus.

Showing us the jarring brutality of how society has moved from birth and honouring natural beauty to prizing make-up, fake tits, and the bare flesh-flashing of minimal clothing, Sheppard summed up the sorry state of our situation by standing in just her knickers and a bra. Then, using a thick black texta, she boldly circled choice cuts of meat on her bare skin. Like an animal at the butcher, she offered herself up to us, an Aboriginal woman reminding us that just like the bodies of our women, our land was also taken and forsaken.

And just as the vibrancy of a monotone picture can inspire skipping, the drama of Jasmin Sheppard’s Choice Cuts became the powerful drive behind my personal Barring Yannabul dance. Through her courage and wisdom, Jasmin Sheppard became my Dancing Queen.

Barring Yanabul was the full-day program of more than 40 free pop-up performances that took over Melbourne’s laneways and iconic spaces for YIRRAMBOI Festival 2019.

Image: Jasmin Sheppard by James Henry