Photo – Bryony Jackson
Broome-based performance company Marrugeku gives us a visionary response from an indigenous perspective to the issues of climate change (including the debate over fracking in the Kimberley area), Cut the Sky. Co-choreographed by Dalisa Pigram and Serge Aime Coulibaly and directed by Rachael Swain, Cut the Sky melds song, poetry, and dance and video in an occasionally astonishing production.
Ngaiire Pigrum sings, as well as songs in Language written for the show, Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand and The Weeping Song, performed against a videoed backdrop showing devastation of human habitat, the result of natural disasters. (My companion felt these ‘western elements’ didn’t sit well with the rest of the show but I disagree.) The show’s set depicts a post-apocalyptic dystopia where humans are reduced to grim survival under plastic tarps, and where later only one crippled kangaroo is all that’s left of the animal world. A massive industrial steampunk-ish piece of machinery dominates the stage and the performers move around and on it. An especially radiant moment in movement sees the dancers transform into a flock of birds taking flight, a relief from the sadness of the story they’re telling. Segments of the show are in Language, Edwin Lee Mulligan performs poetry in his native languages; one of the absolute pleasures of Cut the Sky is hearing his poems in English (surtitled originally for international audiences not used to a western Australian indigenous accent), and his story of Dungkabah, or Poison Woman, an ambiguous allegorical character: poison gas coursing beneath the earth but also a caretaker of country and an actual location in Mulligan’s spirit country of Noonkanbah.
You will be reminded of the Werner Herzog 1984 film Where the Green Ants Dream made with Wandjuk Marika, and of other works such as Brecht/Weill Opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (1930). One segment involves footage from a documentary of indigenous protests against mining sacred sites at Noonkanbah, 1980 where the condescension of authorities towards the protesters is sickening.
Although the show contains a very serious message about what to expect if ‘progress’ continues unheeded and unchecked, it doesn’t feel didactic; Cut the Sky is a beautiful, gentle work enjoying elegant moments expressing the joy of the living body, particularly in a dance duet by Miranda Wheen and Josh Mu. The show culminates in a ‘rain dance’, the ‘cut the sky’ of the title. There’s hope, if we listen now. Performed by Edwin Lee Mulligan, Eric Avery, Josh Mu, Dalisa Pigram, Ngaiire Pigram and Miranda Wheen.
Cut the Sky
Venue: Arts House Meat Market | 5 Blackwood Street, North Melbourne
Dates: 6 – 10 July 2016
Tickets: $45 – $30
Bookings: artshouse.com.au | (03) 9322 3713