Cut the Sky

Cut the Sky


Rachael Swain | Director

Dalisa Pigram and Serge Aimé Coulibaly | Choreographers

Eric Avery, Josh Mu (role performed by Joshua Thomson), Edwin Lee Mulligan, Dalisa Pigram, Ngaire Pigram, Miranda Wheen | Co‑Creators, Performers

November 23-24 2018

Fleck Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto


Reviewed by Ted Fox and Beverley Daurio


The dance company Marrugeku is located in the remote town of Broome in Western Australia. Their production of Cut the Sky recently showed in Toronto.


Cut the Sky opens with a cyclone on stage. Real footage of resultant devastation taken by drones is projected on a cloth scrim that fills the back stage wall. White and Indigenous people huddle on the stage floor, most wrapped in raggedy plastic, inhabiting a sort of dystopean landscape. The centre right of the stage is dominated by a massive pipe with a valve wheel; the pipe is coming from somewhere and going somewhere, containing what, we don't know.


The six inhabitants— played by performers with impressive backgrounds— wear tattered clothing and appear to be marginalized victims of climate change and corporate mining interests in Kimberley, Australia. They include a sex trade worker, miners and a white activist. The notes say nothing about who they are. So we have to work from the cues and clues on stage. They are ciphers who remain unfleshed out throughout. One is Edwin Lee Mullgan, a poet/ storyteller well known in Australia. He delivers traditional storytelling throughout.


For the duration of the show they are the lamenting voices of anguish and protest in a devastated world, trying to prevent further destruction.


This production consists of a series of monologues, songs, poetry, dance, video and storytelling, each section puncturing the previous mood. The show attempts to be very inclusive of different generations, countries, indigenous and Western European worldviews, including new and ancient stories, different genders, animals, the land, and science and Traditional Knowledge.

These disjointed segments lead to a confused vision suggestive of a nightmarish dream; we often feel that we are witness to an otherworldly cabaret. At one point, for instance, the performers move from being a herd of wild quadripeds running in circles, trying to escape the noise of a helicopter, to performing a spirited rendition of Buffalo Springfields's 1960s protest hit "For What Its Worth.” These jarring combinations reach for a larger connection, but the focus is frequently blurry.


The recurring theme is corporate raping of the land people need to live on, mining for mercury and other minerals, for profit above the good of living things. Milligan warns us of the Dunghabah Poison Woman, a mythical representation of spreading pollution and the dangers of disturbing the deep earth.


For a dance company, there is little dance. Miranda Wheen does a frenzied crazed dance. Her body, distorted by pain and anguish, speaks volumes. Two performers dance to a mesmerizing violinist.


The set is malleable, with only the massive pipe a constant in the scenes, while the footage of devastation on the screen continues unabated.


At times the feeling is surrealistic. In one scene, everyone seems to be hanging out in a bar or perhaps a house of ill repute. One has a gas mask on and coughs incessantly. Another wears a very realistic kangaroo mask. He weaves drunkenly across the stage. Thick and smokey toxic haze spews out, blanketing the stage, suggesting industrial toxic air.


A politician shown in real video footage tells indigenous people to live quietly on their allotted land and that they should allow the land to be mined and the water polluted. His voice and commands are infuriating and patronizing. They reinforce a story Milligan tells about the difference between white and indigenous relationships to the land and water.


Singer/song writer Ngaire sings songs written by her, by others, and two songs by Nick Cave. The lyrics of Cave’s The Weeping Song fit in well with the show's content:


Go son down to the water

And see the women weeping there

Then go up into the mountain,

The men they are weeping too


The show ends with real water falling through light onto the performers. They bask in this, celebrating perhaps the end of the long drought. It also comes across as a feel-good all-will-be-well ending offering some hope to the audience.


This production highlights and delineates the importance of attention to environmental issues, and offers different, healthier ways to approach these problems. What is happening in rural Australia is is happening worldwide and Cut the Sky urges everyone to act now.