Cut The Sky is a meditation on humanity’s frailty in the face of our own actions. In a burnt landscape a group of climate change refugees face yet another extreme weather event. Propelled back and forward in time, they revisit conflict with mining companies, the destruction of fauna and relegation of the marginalised, while contemplating the gift of a human life and the life giving force of the sun. Butterflies swarm searching for water, dancers disintegrate into the light, a song is sung calling for rain.
Like climate change itself, Cut the Sky is at once unapologetically local and international, a concept embedded in the collaboration itself, which includes artists from Europe, Asia, Africa and remote and urban Australia. Dance, video, poetry and song collide. All the elements — popular and high art, literal and poetic, indigenous and European — meet abruptly in a breathtaking 70 minutes, creating electric connections.
A work in five acts based on the poems written and spoken by Edwin Lee Mulligan, Cut the Sky includes original songs from soul singer Ngaiire, Indigenous songs by the cast and covers from Nick Cave, sung live with thrilling effect by Ngaire Pigram. The set is bare aside from a gas pipeline thrusting up from the floor of the stage. Backstage is hung a huge length of fabric, its folds visible, serving as a screen for projections. The video design encompasses the literal — broad sweeps of country, the devastation after a cyclone — and the poetic. This ambitious multi-dimensional work showcases Marrugeku’s unique contemporary choreography: restless, taut and unwavering.
Cut the Sky is collaboratively created by:
Production Manager and lighting operator: Guy Harding
Sound and video production and operation: Ella Wufong
Tour manager: Sandi Woo
Cinematographer and video production: Sam James
Editors: Greg Ferris and Sam James
Rain effect designer: Joey Ruigrok Van Der Werven
Executive Producer: Rosemary Hinde
Creative Producer: Rachael Swain
Company Manager: Sandi Woo
Edwin Lee Mulligan
Musicians and vocals in recordings: Lorrae Coffin, Konrad Park, Kelly Ottaway, Andry Sculthorpe, Michael Fortescue
and Ruth Langford
Backing Vocals: Kartanya Maynard
Voice of Bill Grayden: Peter Docker
Engineer and production: Don Bate
Carol Flavell Neist
3 March 2015
Seventy minutes of mind-blowing intercultural and interdisciplinary performance!
This was a huge endeavour, involving many, many people. The six performers were just the tip of an enormous iceberg, although when considering a work created by people whose home is in the desert, perhaps iceberg is an inappropriate metaphor.
The company, collectively called Marrugeku, hails from the north-west of Australia, where, as the program notes tell us, ‘desert meets sea, black meets white, Australia meets Asia, and cultures twine, fuse and morph’. That neatly sums up the Marrugeku experience.
Cut the Sky is based on a modern-day dreaming story of gas buried deep in the north-west. A huge mining device is the only ‘set’, a constant reminder of the intrusion of the mining industry into the lives and legends of the north-west people. The gas is personified as Dungkaba, Poison Woman, via a poem by key performer Edwin Lee Mulligan. Mulligan is already known as an artist but is obviously a poet and dancer of no mean talent as well.
Storms and cyclones are another unavoidable part of living in the north-west, and the dancers skilfully move back and forth between being humans affected by the storm and being the storm itself. Involving film and vocal music, some of it live on stage, and clever effects including a curtain of rain, Cut the Sky kept the audience spellbound.
These are seriously gifted performers of admirable intensity and commitment. Mulligan’s verse, together with the music of Ngaiire, gave as much to the performance as the choreography. Mention must also be made of clever violin-playing, singing dancer, Eric Avery and of Josh Mu’s athletic dancing.
This has to be one of the most successful works of many that have sought to bring Australian ethnic dance and music to the stage.
Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5
6 March 2015
There’s no getting around the fact that climate change is the issue of our time. It’s a problem that encompasses every facet of our lives, from our domestic habits to global politics. One of the reasons why it’s difficult to process, quite apart from the difficulty of extending our individual senses of mortality to imagining our extinction as a species, is its complexity.
Everything that climate change touches is complex: the science, the politics, the economics, the contradictory collective and individual responses of human beings. Addressing the challenges and uncertainties of climate change in a work of art demands a concomitant complexity. Not to mention a great deal of ambition.
So all respect to Broome-based dance company Marrugeku, which tackles climate change head on in its most recent work Cut The Sky, which premiered at this year’s Perth Festival. Cut The Sky frames its argument through an Indigenous perspective, articulated through the poems of Edwin Lee Mulligan and its focus on the 1979 Noonkanbah protests, when the US company AMAX, escorted by hundreds of police, forced its way through Yungngora community pickets to drill for oil on sacred land.
As I walked out, I thought I had seen nothing like it; but it’s difficult to describe precisely why this is so. Cross-disciplinary collaborations are common in theatre, and it’s not remarkable that dance, video, poetry and song should all collide in a single work.
Cut The Sky is, like climate change itself, at once unapologetically local and international, a concept is embedded in the collaboration itself. The creative team stretches to Belgium, with associates of Belgium’s Les Ballet C de la B as core creators. As well as Marrugeku’s Rachel Swain (concept and direction) and Dalisa Pigram (concept and choreography), there is choreography from Serge Aimé Coulibaly and dramaturgy (Hildegard de Vuyst). The influence of Les Ballet C de la B is clear in the vocabulary of the dance, a theme of neurotic, broken movement that expresses human and environmental damage.
There are original songs from soul singer Ngaiire and Indigenous songs as well as covers from Nick Cave and Buffalo Springfield, sung live with thrilling effect by Ngaire Pigram in a poison green corset. The video design encompasses the literal – broad sweeps of country, the devastation after a cyclone – and the poetic. There is the speaking of poems, direct and honest recitations from Edwin Lee Mulligan that weave traditional knowledge with contemporary anxieties. And, of course, there’s superb dance.
All these elements – popular and high art, literal and poetic, Indigenous and European – are jammed together into a breathtaking 70 minutes, each at once clashing against the others and creating electric connections. The transition from one mode of performance to the next is often jarring, even deliberately crude, but it’s always exciting. If it’s true, as Peter Brook said, that theatre is about contrast, then this show is as theatrical as it gets.
It’s performed on a set by Stephen Curtis which gives the sense, like the workaday costumes, of being put together from materials to hand. The set is bare aside from a gas pipeline thrusting up from the floor of the stage. Backstage is hung a huge length of fabric, its folds visible, which serves as a screen for projections.
The dance moves through five acts, beginning, like The Tempest, in the middle of a storm. It moves back and forward in time, touching on conflict with mining companies, the destruction of fauna and abnegation of the marginalised, the perfidy of a state that demands that its subjects trust it, while at the same time betraying them.
The intellectual frame is provided by Indigenous mythmaking that warns of the terrifying ambiguity of the natural world, which both gives and destroys. It leads to an astonishing finale that evokes both catastrophe and plenty. I was surprised at the end when only six cast members took their bows: they had so filled the stage with their presences that it seemed there must be more. Exhilarating and original work.
Australian Book review
5 March 2015
The world première in Perth of a new work from a Broome-based performance company was an event of considerable note. Twenty-one years of productions made in West Arnhem Land and then in Broome turns conventional wisdoms upside down in Australian terms. Many people still hold that sophisticated cultural work is made in cities and that regional or remote places yield up worthy or folksy work that belongs in a different register. Marrugeku and their new work rout these prejudices. They have been doing it all along, too, drawing in collaborators from everywhere to build an impressive body of work.
In Cut the Sky we have another Kimberley story, the genre well known if you have followed the development of Aboriginal theatre and music from the west of the continent since the 1980s. It is a particular mode of expression grown from the historical details of a town such as Broome, where Aboriginal land was settled by not only colonial arrivals but also by regional neighbours with a variety of reasons for being there. This is the fertile context that created Bran Nue Dae (1990), the rich seam of performance driven by names such as Chi and Albert and Pigram, and Mary Geddarrdyu. Marrugeko reach further into global arts to find collaborators: from other colonised societies as well as from the centres of European distinction and innovation. In this case, their collaborators are from West Africa, India, and Belgium.
‘Twenty-one years of productions made in West Arnhem Land and then in Broome turns conventional wisdoms upside down in Australian terms’
The collaborative partners add to the groundwork of the project with its stories of survival and inquiry, elaborating by example the layers of richness in Aboriginal lives, the traditional threads alongside modernity. In Cut the Sky, the story revolves in the first instance around the community of Nookanbah and, in the second, about climate change and its impact in an ancient country and in the regionweoccupy – not a call to arms but a subtle exploration of custodianship, mythopoesis, occupation, the delicate rhythms of the everyday. It captures the contest of ‘use’ of this country. It is animated in five acts, each of which questions what is above and below the crust of the earth.
Edwin Lee Mulligan, a young artist and writer from Nookanbah, site of a serious conflict about land and rights in 1980, is a remarkable performer and storyteller. He is the centrepiece of the work as a narrator; he also contributes with a riff on traditional dancing. His lines are long, the ideas complex, the delivery softly modulated and deeply compelling. His text covers the contest of land usage, of understandings of country as mother and as commodity. It is a paean to the gifts of mortality and belonging, its counter drive all about danger and the repetition of the havoc that humans can wreak
The set design is made up of industrial mine apparatus and a robust screen that takes in aerial and human perspective views of Kimberley country as well as other indeterminate locations for film footage of cyclones and tsunamis to amplify the ideas of climate change. The mantra in the work is ‘when will it rain again?’. Footage is used of the blockade at Nookanbah in 1980, with a recorded message by a patrician Western Australian government minister laying out the ‘what’s ours is not yours’ agenda.
The designers, Deleuzean practitioners who make up a group called Desire Machine Collective, are based in Assam, India.
There is an exquisite moment when dancer Eric Avery steps onto the stage with a violin, plays it in a conventional manner and then shifts it to be the accompaniment for a song he has brought to the production, his Ngiyampaa Song, sung in Ngiyampaa Wangaaypuwan language. The feisty singer Ngaire Pigram, well known for film and theatre work, struts the stage with attitude and sings Nick Cave, Ngaiire, and Buffalo Springfield. It is a wild ride, this music choice and delivery, occasionally jarring, but entirely consistent with the wide range of influences and mixing-up that makes up this work in a provisional and fragmentary mode. Most of it worked for me.
Then there is the dancing with choreography made by Dalisa Pigram and Serge Aimé Coulibaly, Burkina Faso-born and now working in Belgium with his own company and all of the radicals of that dance world. The choreography is electrifying and the four dancers all very fine, but Dalisa Pigram has what seems to be an intensity plug-in installed: she has a tiny body and she generates the most astonishing impact onstage. Her flexibility and poise are phenomenal and she is currently at the height of her beauty and creativity. I cannot see that easing up, either, for a long time: you can tell that she is bursting with ideas. Watching her made me feel dizzy: she is dancing for her life, for her people; she expresses all of the anguish and love that drives this work and its larger set of interests concerning political will and sovereignty and the future for all of us.
Along with the ground-breaking work in Australia that companies such as bigHart are making with innovation in art and social change – where the art is everything and not subservient to the message – Cut the Sky provides critical thinking fodder as well as beauty to contemplate.
2 March 2015
Broome-based company Marrugeku’s new production Cut The Sky mixes contemporary and traditional music, poetry, contemporary dance and visual media in an entertaining seventy-minute performance. With esteemed Yawuru man Patrick Dodson as cultural adviser, Cut the Sky draws on indigenous knowledge systems to contemplate climate change, land rights, and an uncertain future.
Promoted as ‘genre defying,’ the production also travels through time and to events at Noonkanbah in Western Australia in 1980 when violent confrontations between police and indigenous and non-indigenous protesters culminated in drilling rigs forcing their way on to sacred land.
Directed by Rachael Swain (concept by Dalisa Pigram and Rachael Swain), Cut the Sky features the poems of artist and storyteller Edwin Lee Mulligan, with songs by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Buffalo Springfield, and new songs by Ngaiire, all sung live by Ngaire Pigram to recorded music, save for a memorable and unexpected violin piece.
Creative collaborators for this production are from Australia, West Africa, Belgium, Papua New Guinea and India and include choreographers Dalisa Pigram and Serge Aimé Coulibaly, dramaturg Hildegard de Vuyst, musical director Matthew Fargher, media and visual concept designers Sonal Jain and Mriganka Madhukaillya, and rain-effect designer Joey Ruigrok Van Der Werven.
Set and costume designer has Stephen Curtis created settings with a fixed industrial-looking structure, a make-shift camp set up by the cast, and changing projected images; some of the costumes are created, ironically, from plastic and there is a realistic kangaroo head and some brightly-coloured, eye-catching outfits for Ngaire Pigram.
In a raw, thought-provoking, aspirational production with a cast of only six, not all ideas gelled, but there were many high points.
Edwin Lee Mulligan’s five poems are woven throughout and his poetic language and voice created a uniting, persuasive force. Against confronting projected images of cyclonic destruction, Ngaire Pigram delivered a moving rendition of Nick Cave’s “Weeping Song”. Josh Mu’s slow, awkward and unsteady kangaroo, pawing the air before being engulfed by fire on a smoke-filled stage, was heart-rending.
Dancer Dalisa Pigram’s brilliantly eccentric movement and drunken rant wearing a high-visibility vest in a pub scene was confronting, with Ngaire Pigram outstanding in Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand”.
Ngaiire’s “Rain Song”, and Eric Avery’s “Ngiyampaa Song”, played by Avery on the violin then sung in Ngiyampaa Wangaaypuwan language, were soul-stirring as Dalisa Pigram and Mu connected in a beautiful, organic duo; Pigram (with wings) luminous in a solo of softly folding backbends juxtaposed to jerky, erratic movement.
Dancer Miranda Wheen in protective clothing, manic, breathless, and sniffing ‘gas’, revealed her skills and vocal strengths in a disquieting solo. And projected images and words from a politician’s speech patronisingly berating the Noonkanbah protestors, ending with, “We are your friends,” drew laughter, before Ngaire Pigram powered through Buffalo Springfield’s 1967 hit “For What it’s Worth”.
“Wadampa lu Ring-ganga gangany” (Flood water brings debris), written and sung by Mulligan in Nykina and Walmajarrdi language, and Josh Mu’s performance in his solos and duo with Wheen, enriched the production.
Movingly, as the storyteller sleeps exhausted under a blanket, projections of floods and destruction are replaced by images of spinifex country. After the final song, Ngaiire’s “Dreaming the Future”, superbly sung by Ngaire Pigram as Dungkabah (Poison Woman), heavy rain (artificial) begins pouring down, drenching the performers and the stage.
The audience response to the première performance of this multifaceted production was enthusiastic and must have warmed the hearts of its many creators. The Regal Theatre is not an ideal space for the production which makes it all the more impressive that such a small cast conveyed the soul and essence of Cut the Sky so effectively.
Sydney Opera House
EUROPEAN TOUR 2015
Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg
Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg (KVS)
22, 23 & 24 October
The Boardwalk Theatre
7 & 8 August 2015
Mandurah Performing Arts Centre
Ormsby Terrace, Mandurah
or (08) 9550 3900 (office hours only)
Pigram Garden Theatre
14, 15, 16 August 2015
Broome Civic Centre
Corner of Weld and Haas Streets, Broome
or (08) 9191 8780 (office hours only)
Mowanjum Art and Culture Centre
22 August 2015
Free community performance
27 & 28 August 2015
Free community performance
Perth International Arts Festival
Friday 27 February – 1 March
Regal Theatre, 474 Hay Street, Subiaco
7 & 8 March 2015