In its latest work for the Sydney Festival, the Broome-based dance theatre, Marrugeku continues with the theme of diminishing optimism for Aborigines in The Kimberley that started with their work, Gudirr Gudirr at the Festival in 2014. But, unlike that solo for the company’s co-artistic director, Dalisa Pigram (yes, from the musically fertile Pigram family), this is a 6-performer work, and it needed clearer direction than the company’s founder, Rachael Swain was able to give it.
It also followed Gudirr Gudirr in employing a European-based co-choreographer to work with Pigram. Serge Aimee Coulibaly may bring Afro-European skills that I missed, and almost certainly brought benefits in terms of co-presenting Cut the Sky at theatres in Germany, Holland and Luxembourg. But I’d really like to see what Pigram on her own could offer about Indigenous feeling in the far North-West. She’s such a compact, confident performer, recognising her Malay and English ancestry as well as the Yawaru that links her to her grand-father (and cultural adviser) Patrick Dodson, I feel she has the potential to be the Jimmy Chi of dance.
So, what did I experience? Against an ever-changing projected backdrop across the wide Drama Theatre stage of desertification, the havoc wreaked by the Japanese tsunami and various scenes of mining on Indigenous Country (created by the Desire Machine Collective), the set consisted solely of an intrusive CSG plant that blows very visible and poisonous gas across the stage at various points. A particularly potent scene is the appearance of a disorientated kangaroo through this haze, simply tottering across the stage in such an un-kangaroo manner.
The same performer “ Eric Avery, I think “ plays a violin movingly and sings a rain song in the Ngiyampaa Wangaaypuwan language “ though it would appear to have been a non-Aboriginal pop song that actually provokes the welcome rain that falls on stage at the end. I recalled the wonderful recent doco, Putupurri about the efforts of painter Spider Snell to maintain the rain-making character of a particular desert water-hole through traditional ceremony and felt sad that such matters couldn’t be more sensitively represented in Cut the Sky.
Such explanation as the show offered came from poet (and painter) Edwin Lee Mulligan in a marvellously laid-back manner, warning of the dangers of releasing his Walmajarri people’s ‘poison lady’ from imprisonment underground. Meanwhile, all hell broke loose around him. Extreme weather was only one cause of this excess. We were also reminded of the Noonkanbah protests against mining in the late 70s and early 80s when sacred sites on an Aboriginal-run cattle station were threatened by miners sooled on by WA Premier Sir Charles Court. We were not reminded of the miners’, politicians’ and police’s Pyrrhic victory then “ their oil well was as dry as the desert sands.
Can such complexity of a political nature be successfully danced? Mulligan’s poem, The time for hopefulness is past, seemed to achieve that so simply. But there was also marvellous movement in a section I mentally entitled, Crying for Country. And Avery’s violin accompanied a powerful, abstract rain-dance. Like the curate’s egg, Cut the Sky was good (and effective) in parts.