Cut The Sky – Dance Australia – Margaret Mercer

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 Nyikina and Walmajarri 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.