“Story through song” is an interesting and at times emotive method of telling stories, and Cut The Sky is a great example of this. Whilst an understanding of Indigenous Australian stories can be helpful, as well as an understanding of the symbolism of dance and poetry is strongly recommended, this performance is certainly suitable for NAIDOC Week and for those who are interested in a visual spectacle.
Before getting started, it is important to note than an understanding of dance and, to a lesser degree, poetry and Indigenous storytelling methods, is recommended. Dance is certainly one form of artistic expression that can be highly symbolic, due to the lack of verbal communication, and this can lead to a heavy reliance on imagery, which means paying attention is essential. If dance, especially modern artistic dance performances, are not your thing, this will probably be quite a confusing experience. But it can still be worthwhile if you are willing to approach the show with an open mind.
One thing that easily stands out for Cut The Sky is the visuals. Ranging from a smoke machine cunningly disguised as a boiler (which the performers were able to interact with) through to the changing backdrops (which depicted everything from a crocodile through to ruins to vast open deserts), the visual elements of this performance were highly engaging. There was even a video of an anti-mining protest coupled with a highly patronising message from a premier of Western Australia which was probably one of the most overtly political moments in the show (considering this was followed by a rather lively ‘60’s song, which involved dancing with the Aboriginal Flag and had imagery from the land rights movement of the ‘60’s, it was hard not to consider this political). Although the best visual element would have to be the finale – they literally “made it rain”, with water falling down and drenching the performers. It must have been quite cold (the Meat Market Arts House is quite chilly), but it was visually quite stunning.
Actually, getting back onto the political theme, it was quite apparent that the performance had political overtones. Considering this was launched during NAIDOC Week, that does make sense, but it was still engaging to watch regardless of one’s political leanings. With the exception of the WA Premier scene, there was no overt attack on the land rights debate or the state of Indigenous people in Australia – but that doesn’t mean that the symbolism and reflection of contemporary debates wasn’t there. Even the environmental message was strong – the performance was set in an Australia gutted by environmental disaster.
The music would the thing after the visual elements that really stand out. The range was incredible – from electronic ambient which was dark and menacing through to soaring ballads, and even a 60’s protest song. It was the music that really drove the performance the most, and, even more than the lighting and props, set the tone of each scene. Also, the lead singer’s voice was very strong, and, although the speakers could have been a little clearer, she delivered a solid performance that really stood out.
One of the more interesting things was the poetry spoken by the “dream catcher” swagman. Watching his performance throughout the show was very enjoyable – he spent half of the show “asleep” in the most “Australian” pose possible (lying on his swag, arms folded, hiding under his Akubra hat). Even when he was dancing, he was often apart from the rest of the performers, almost as if he was another audience member “observing” the rest. And all of the spoken word elements of the performance were his – which he delivered very well. The spoken word elements were actually an interesting blend of “Indigenous Dream Time” style stories mixed with more contemporary language and imagery, which was a curious yet engaging mix of styles.
Because of the highly artistic nature of the performance, it should be watched only after one undertaken at least a Wiki-research into symbolism in dance, and probably into the concept of “story through song”. However, the visual elements and the music make for a very enjoyable performance, even if your understanding of dance is zero. In conclusion, an enjoyable performance, with talented performers and production team.