The magic tricks and the deep souls of theatre, dance and music at the 2024 Perth Festival: Politics and art

Marrugeku’s Mutiara was the supreme example of politics melding with artistic form.

Marrugeku excels at taking cultural memories of oppression and turning them into conflicted yet energised choreography.

Mutiara is framed around the experience of First Nations, Malay and creole workers in the Australian pearling industry of the early 20th century. The dancers fight impulses from within, generating empowered choreographic expressions.

The choreography is co-devised by performers Soultari Amin Farid, Dalisa Pigram and Zee Zunnur, together with Ahmat Bin Fadal. It draws on Malay martial arts (silat), First Nations and Malay dance and European dance theatre. Sequences are often marked by abrupt redirections of velocity. Although weaving and flowing, the movement often pauses or pops, before finding new ways out of each temporary arrest. The dancers break through barriers with almost every gesture.

In one eerie sequence, the dancers enter not quite staggering, with black wicker baskets over their heads, hands flailing in slow motion or pointing in awkward poses. Only later did I realise this sequence represented the dancers dreaming of being dressed in diving helmets while finding their way on the bottom of the ocean.
For many festival shows, just the act of putting on the show could be political, but Marrugeku focused on that most complex tool of political expression: the body.