My Name Is Jimi – Subtle poking at a white anxiety. (Theatre Review)
My Name is Jimi
15 – 21 January. You can grab your tickets here.
Theatre is, grammatically, what makes us see. Rather, the theatre is that which exposes what is usually hidden. Theatre makes visible the invisible. In this sense, the representation of culture from the kwod of Wagadagam by Jimi Bani exposes a kind of theatrical nakedness in the spirit of Australian culture. This production is more than information for the (very obviously) ill informed white Australian. It is a journey toward spiritual nakedness for those in attendance. My Name Is Jimi says more about its audience than its creators. The anxiety that bleeds into the audience is channeled by the laying of the welcome mat at the start and its removal at the end. Despite the warmth of the performers, and their engaging patience in explaining their culture, the request is to be left alone; for us to leave them to preserve their culture in peace. This theatre produces effects of considerable force in spectators: it moves us, it transports us, it makes us applaud, it is a living vibration. The muted propaganda of theatre is finally used for something real, something mutually beneficial. The sense that there is a cultural rivalry afoot is impossible to miss. It is their culture to include all of us; it is ours to destroy, obliterate or appropriate for our comfort.
My Name Is jimi seeks to present on stage figures and fragments of the real of these peoples lives, but it is the real of our lives also. While philosophy deals with core issues, theatre is able to tell a story that leaves the issues elsewhere. It is up to the audience to draw lessons from this representation of individual and collective existence. Theatre aims to alayse human existence but not under the sign of the idea, rather, posing the question of how to speak to people in such a way so that they think about their lives in a differently? My Name Is Jimi seeks to have this conversation through the indirect means of representation and distance, a deliberate equivocation of a performance. Indeed, a tension exists between the artifact, the human and the audience. We see headdress and clothing held in glass cases, and are exhorted to see the human step from this state, only to find ourselves wrapping the vision in the glass case of the lesson; always in order to avoid it touching us. The great pretense is that we seek to preserve Jimi’s culture when it is always the preservation of our own culture motivating us.
It was Howard Barker who said “The art of theatre aspires to moral nakedness. It is the antithesis of education, which is clothing, which is a suffocation in ethical garments.” (DOAT 33) This is an allusion to Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, which suggests finding another poetical language, stripped of all stable meaning so as to create anxiety. For Jimi Bani and his family this is second nature. We are introduced to one of his languages, as if we were small children being instructed by a loving uncle. But just as we feel safe, his family easily speak a combination of three languages, not to refuse our learning, but to invite us to dive into the anxiety of misunderstanding with an effort to meet in the muddled middle. This seemingly simple action uses words and sentences with a plethora of meaning unclothing language itself making meaning unstable. There is no question of victory and defeat, no unresolved conflict, but the play has managed, through a subtle labyrinthine narrative pathway to infect the audience with the same anxiety and despair of accidental historical existence and its equally frail transient and ephemeral theatrical transformation into fleeting tragic grandeur; the same existential-cum-artistic dilemma that torments Jimi and his family in their own quest to pass their cultural history on to their youth. Jimi and his family seek relief from our anxiety but equally they carry the anxiety of watch their culture fade via appropriation. In this way, the theatre of Jimi Bani carries the infection it seeks to heal, moving the audience through anxiety and into the space where healing out of chaos can begin.
This is a light, delicate, exquisitely beautiful production, whose subtlety must be reached for as a refusal of passivity. This is collaborative theatre at its highest, an appeal to our freedom (of choice) and our highest self. Jason Klarwein’s direction is equally moved by the opportunity for transformation it presents as it successfully straddles the gulf between indigenous storytelling and the self-consciousness of the Belvoir stage. He is assisted by a wonderful list of creatives who do a fine job, but most of all by the Bani family themselves, Agnes Bani, Conwell Bani, Richard Bani and Dmitri Ashwang-Bani. Overriding the Bani family is the undisputed power of Petharie Bani, grandmother and the gentle ‘knowing’ that claims all authority. It is worth seeing this marvelous production for her presence alone, watchful and commanding without the white customs of force. The addition of gorgeous diaramas made large makes for a warm, joyful experreince.
My Name is Jimi is a powerful production, light on touch and subtle, that makes it way into our very damaged collective psyche. It’s a production you will not want to miss. Take the whole family. You will be glad you did.