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Blurred vision

Keith Gallasch: Marrugeku, Cut The Sky

Cut the Sky, Marrugeku Theatre Cut the Sky, Marrugeku Theatre
photo Heidrun Löhr
RealTime has followed the emergence of Marrugeku’s Cut The Sky with an interview with choreographer Dalisa Pigram and poet Edwin Lee Mulligan, who both perform in the work, a glowing response to a first-run performance in Broome (the company’s cultural hub) and a review—with strong reservations about the work’s scope—of the Perth International Arts Festival premiere. Cut the Sky has otherwise received laudatory reviews.

I’ve admired some, if not all, of Marrugeku’s past creations, especially Burning Daylight, a more lucid and cogent work than Cut The Sky. The performance I saw of the new work in the Sydney Festival was beset with several technical challenges: a performer appeared in an aerial harness but did not fly, words yelled in a huge storm (set in the future according to the program notes) were drowned out by effects and a protest scene made no sense when a character with a loud hailer could not be heard. These problems were doubtless incidental. Putting them aside, Cut the Sky is still a less than coherent work—a series of often elusive, unrevealingly juxtaposed episodes. Intention grows clearer (indeed crudely literal when dancer Miranda Wheen has to recite ‘information’ while dancing), but comes too late, so awash is this production with unintegrated components—a jumble of contents, images, styles and musical forms recalling earlier contemporary performance.

There’s also a lack of clarity about who’s who and specifically about the Dungkabah or Poison Woman (the coal gas buried in the earth) and her relationship to singer Ngaire Pigram’s rock diva and Dancer Dalisa Pigram. There are slight moments—two black characters share disapproving glances when Wheen ‘co-opts’ the Aboriginal flag during a protest and scales the set’s gas pipe with it—amid epic visions of global climate change and the Kimberley’s political past.

Cut the Sky, Marrugeku Theatre Cut the Sky, Marrugeku Theatre
photo Jon Green
Dalisa Pigram (choreographer with Serge Aimé Coulibaly) appears at one point to be inhabited by Poison Woman, recalling the originality of her dancing in her own Gudirr Gudirr; otherwise the choreography looks conventionally ‘contemporary.’ There are momentary pleasures: Edwin Lee Mulligan speaking his poetry, a cleverly realised marionette-like kangaroo-man and the sheer scale of the Kimberley landscape (cinematography Sam James) projected on the huge upstage screen, the camera sweeping forward and then disorientingly backwards.

The grand sweep of issues, images, history, ideas and forms in Cut The Sky leaves in its wake impressions, generalisations and, in the end, a sense of unwarranted optimism as longed-for rain finally falls. There’s no denying the talents of the performers and other artists involved in Cut The Sky, nor its momentary strengths. But the work’s “shifting of time and cause and effect” (program notes) disadvantages the cogency of its account of the destructive coalescence of mining and climate change in its impact on Indigenous culture and country and the Earth. If the need for clarity requires a somewhat more literal approach, without surrendering the work’s evident magic, so be it.

Sydney Festival, Marrugeku, Cut The Sky, director Rachael Swain, designer Stephen Curtis, musical director Matthew Fargher; Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, 14-17 Jan

RealTime issue #131 Feb-March 2016 pg. web

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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