The highly anticipated interdisciplinary work Cut the Sky premiered on Wednesday night at the Arts House Meat Market to a packed audience. It is the most recent work produced by Marrugeku, an interdisciplinary dance company based in Broome inspired to create work based on the experiences of communities in northwest Australia. Marrugeku has previously received high acclaim for its visually engaging, culturally rich and socio-politically poignant performances which draw from the story-telling traditions of Indigenous Australians and contemporary interdisciplinary practices. Cut the Sky thus reflects manifold mediums in performing arts.
Cut the Sky intends to explore the condition of our species in light of the myriad environmental, economic and social disasters we have endured. Centred on the impacts of such disasters on the Australian landscape and its people, the performance combines dance, spoken word, music and theatre against the backdrop of images and video created by Sonal Jain and Mriganka Madhukaillya (Desire Machine Collective).
The work commences to a scene of a dystopian landscape, its few inhabitants huddled amidst shelters made of debris as an ominous industrial chimney releases gas into the air. Entering the stage in sombre disposition, celebrated poet, artist and performer Edwin Lee Mulligan gently tells us of his experiences of the land and the way in which the connection to the land felt by indigenous Australians has been lost in the rush towards development, leaving the next generation void of this spiritual understanding.
Cut the Sky attempts to combine a range of performance mediums to illustrate issues of critical importance concerning the economic and social devastation of rural communities, the irrevocable environmental impacts of mining for gas and minerals and the unjust political bureaucracy imposed upon traditional owners. Reverting between performed monologues, songs, choreographed sequences, video and story-telling, each of these issues are explored to greater or lesser degrees. Somewhat like a musical, scenes are presented one after another, punctuated with songs either from recordings or sung by the saloon stylings of Ngaire Pigram, sometimes also involving dance sequences. Though rich in content, this results in a somewhat fragmented delivery that often feels awkward and slightly forced. Transitions between scenes and the progression of the narrative was at times abrupt. Possibly these challenges also arose due to the very different physical and performative aesthetics of each of the cast members.
In solo scenes however, each of the performers shone in their unique artistic vocabulary: the story-telling poetry of Edwin Lee Mulligan is vividly illustrative and subtly captivating; Dalisa Pigram is chilling in her danced and spoken monologue, ruthlessly encapsulating the social erosion faced by many remote communities; Miranda Wheen has us hanging on every word of her doomsday forecast delivered with impressively crazed and jaunted hysteria; and Eric Avery is haunting and utterly mesmerizing on the violin and vocals, which he gracefully transitions into a movement sequence borrowing both indigenous and contemporary stylings. The dance duet delivered by Miranda Wheen and Josh Mu is also a stand-out scene and a testament to the ability of the choreographers (Dalisa Pigram and Serge Alme Coulibaly) to combine a sense of suffering and dislocation with form and aesthetic.
Overall Cut the Sky manages to depict several critical issues that we as a society must face urgently and provides moments of tangible connection to this subject matter.
Cut the Sky is on at the Meat Market in North Melbourne from the 6th of July every night until July 10th. More information here.
Concept: Dalisa Pigram and Rachael Swain
Poems: Edwin Lee Mulligan
Director: Rachael Swain
Choreographers: Dalisa Pigram and Serge Aimé Coulibaly
Dramaturgy: Hildegard de Vuyst
Musical Director: Matthew Fargher
Media Designers and Visual Concept: Sonal Jain and Mriganka Madhukaillya (Desire Machine Collective)
Set and Costume Designer: Stephen Curtis
Lighting Designer: Damien Cooper
Cultural Adviser: Patrick Dodson
Co-created and Performed by: Miranda Wheen, Ngaire Pigram, Eric Avery, Josh Mu, Dalisa Pigram, Edwin Lee Mulligan