Cut the Sky: Traces of Experimentation in Dance and Dramaturgy in the Age of the Anthropocene

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Pigram, Dalisa, and Rachael Swain “Cut the Sky: traces of Experimentation in Dance and Dramaturgy in the Age of the Anthropocene.” Global Performance Studies, vol. 1, no. 2, 2018,

Dalisa Pigram and Rachael Swain

Co-artistic Directors of Marrugeku

The work expressed here in video, photographs was created on the lands of the Yawuru in Broome and the Bunuba in the central Kimberley. We acknowledge their elders past and present and their ongoing self-determination in changing environments.

CUT THE SKY: Five Songs for the Future

Cut The Sky is a meditation on humanity’s frailty in the face of our own actions. In a burnt landscape, a group of climate change refugees face yet another extreme weather event. Propelled back and forward in time, they revisit conflict with mining companies, the destruction of fauna, and relegation of the marginalised, while contemplating the gift of a human life and the life-giving force of the sun. Crocodiles, who once were human, lurch at each other’s throats, butterflies swarm searching for water, dancers disintegrate into the light, a song is sung calling for rain.

In creating Cut the Sky, we wanted to give form to ways of knowing and doing and being that exist in Indigenous knowledge systems and approaches to “caring for country.” We offer our audiences the chance to consider climate change through another lens, exemplified in the poetry of Walmajarri/Nyikina artist Edwin Lee Mulligan, the songs written specially for the production by Ngaiire and Eric Avery, (sung in Ngiyampaa Wangaaypuwan), and the restless and urgent choreography of the dancers.

Situations are becoming more complex by the day in the North West of Australia, where cultural relationships and responsibilities are being challenged in multiple ways. Fulfilling our responsibility to keep the balance is delicate, but from an Aboriginal perspective there are people in our culture who still hold the knowledge and power to “sing the rain” or “cut the sky.”

In a key moment in Cut the Sky, Edwin tells the dreaming story for the gas, as he says: “the most desired mineral right now in the Kimberley’s.” She is buried deep in his spirit country. In his forth poem — Dungkabah, or Poison Woman — he explains for the audience her presence. She exists at the same time as mineral, as a dangerous and lusty woman who can cause death, and yet she is a custodian who cares for her country. Dungkabah is a physical site near Noonkanbah and Edwin’s spirit country in the central Kimberley. Edwin’s poem and the figures who reemerge across time in Cut the Sky; Indigenous and non-Indigenous mining workers, a geologist, a sex worker, a displaced traditional owner and a protester; give form to our ideas as they have played out in the Kimberley from the late 1970s and to 100 years in the future.

Our early reference points have included the film Where the Green Ants Dream (1984) made by Werner Herzog with Wandjuk Marika — based on the Milirrpum v Nabalco Pty Ltd land claim case (1971), the first (and unsuccessful) litigation on Native Title in Australia. We refer directly to the documentary, On Sacred Ground (1980), exposing the landmark protests of the Noonkanbah people against the American company Amex, as well as the Brecht/Weill Opera, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (1930). These portents circulate within the work.

As we have created Cut the Sky, we have both inverted the concepts (from the affects of listening to the affects of not listening) and also, in a radical dramaturgical moment, we totally reversed the order of the scenes. The cyclone doesn’t loom and pass as in Mahagonny, but we begin in its midst, sometime in the near future, contemplating the increase in extreme weather events.

This shifting of time and of cause and effect has been, in part, our attempt to come to grips with the sprawling nature of climate change — and with who or what is in control as we ask how we value what is above and below the earth’s crust. There is a sense that the cyclone has been circling us as we work. That it, in turn, has been listening to us discuss what new stories we need to guide us through, causing us to dance at the edge of the apocalypse.

Dalisa Pigram and Rachael Swain

Video excerpts of Cut the Sky presented at KVS, Brussels, October 2015. (10 minutes)

Videography and editing: Jan Bosteels, 2015

Credits for Cut the Sky[i]

Dalisa Pigram and Miranda Wheen in “Who Will Be There to Sing the Rain?” Photo: Rob Maccoll, Brisbane, 2016
Eric Avery, Josh Mu, Dalisa Pigram and Miranda Wheen in “Butterfly Dance.” Photo: Jon Green, Perth, 2015
“The Last of It’s Kind.” Photo: Heidrun Lhor, Sydney, 2015
Cut the Sky. Photo: Jon Green, Perth, 2015
Ngaire Pigram as Dungkabah. Photo: Heidrun Lhor, Sydney, 2015
Bunuba leader June Oscar at Bandilngan with Marrugeku dancers. Photo: Sam James, 2013
Bunuba leader June Oscar at Bandilngan with Marrugeku dancers. Photo: Sam James, 2013
Dancer Eric Avery improvises in Bandilngan. Photo: Sam James, 2013
Dancer Miranda Wheen contemplates a sacred rock in Bandilngan. Photo: Sam James, 2013

15 min video on Listening to Country research laboratory, The Kimberley, July 2013

Videography and editing: Sam James, 2013

[i] Cut the Sky is collaboratively created by:

Concept: Dalisa Pigram and Rachael Swain

Poems: Edwin Lee Mulligan

Director: Rachael Swain

Choreographers: Dalisa Pigram and Serge Aimé Coulibaly

Dramaturg: Hildegard de Vuyst

Media designers and visual concept: Sonal Jain and Mriganka Madhukaillya (Desire Machine Collective)

Musical Director: Matthew Fargher

Songwriter: Ngaiire

Set and Costume Designer: Stephen Curtis

Lighting Designer: Damien Cooper

Cultural Adviser: Patrick Dodson



Miranda Wheen

Ngaire Pigram

Eric Avery

Josh Mu

Dalisa Pigram

Edwin Lee Mulligan