Ghenoa Gela invites her audience to take a walk in her shoes in this spellbinding biographical monologue.
It’s a journey that takes you from Rockhampton, along the sand roads of Moa Island in the Torres Strait, and to places that can be, for First Nations people at least, hazardous.
My Urrwai ( a word encompassing “my style” and “my spirit”; you can read more about it here) is Gela navigating cultures, traditions, identity, languages, faith and sexuality.
The anchor line of the show is Gela’s introduction to her grandmother’s people on Moa, a place she didn’t visit until she was 21. Like other incidents she describes in this 60-minute work, it’s one where initial hopes are dashed, in this case by her cousins, who see Gela as an outsider.
Feelings of rejection, of otherness, are constants in the piece. Using an audience member as a stand-in, Gela demonstrates what happened to her teenaged dance student self when she tried to buy a pair of ballet shoes.
Later, in the show’s most viscerally gripping passage, she employs another member of the audience to illustrate what happened (and what might have happened had she not exercised her smarts) when she was moved on by police for “loitering”.
For many in First Nations communities, this incident and others like it are part of everyday experience. Many in the audience were momentarily stunned by the reality check.
In another strong vignette, she takes down a recent work situation in which she felt her identity and dance traditions were being exploited in order to “tick boxes”.
Otherwise, My Urrwai is very largely upbeat. Employing her skills as a dancer, comedian, choreographer and actor, Gela charms her crowd with vivid storytelling, self-deprecating humour and wide-open expressivity under a sky of shifting colours created by lighting designer Niklas Pajanti.
Whether Gela is playing her toddler self being instructed how to pronounce her own name by a kindie teacher, or recreating the scene where she comes out to her firmly Christian family, you can’t help but root for her.