Saturday, January 20, 2024

Mutiara - Sydney Festival


Mutiara – Produced by Marrugeku Inc with Bahri and Co (Broome, Western Australia).  Sydney Festival at Everest Theatre, Seymour Centre, January 19-21 2024.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
January 20

About Mutiara - at  
The cruel, haunting past of the Kimberley’s now famous pearling industry told through intercultural dance and visual art revealing the resilience, love and strength of ancestors.  The work is a celebration of the unsung bond between First Peoples of the Kimberley and seafaring Malay peoples during a time of colonialism exploring the coexistence and the path that often led to love and lifelong companionship.

Mutiara reveals buried truths washed up and left along the shores of time, during an era of colonialism, racism, exploitation, slavery, and stolen children.  Ancestors tell stories, bones speak, ancestral beings feud, seas change and deep beneath the surface the diver yearns for home. Mutiara celebrates, heals and rewrites histories.

Co–choreographers and dancers Dalisa Pigram, Soultari Amin Farid and Zee Zunnur with Broome’s Ahmat Bin Fadal (ex–pearl diver) collaborate with visual artist Abdul–Rahman Abdullah, composer Safuan Johari, dramaturg Rachael Swain, costume designer Zoe Atkinson and lighting designer Kelsey Lee, to reflect on living within multiple shifting frames of identity, culture, faith and belonging.  Drawing on Yawuru and Minangkabau dance forms as well as silat and diasporic connections to land and sea to create a new dance language that disrupts binaries of identity and the borders of the nation state.

Mutiara is collaboratively created by:
Concept: Soultari Amin Farid, Dalisa Pigram, Zee Zunnur and Rachael Swain
Co-Choreographers and Performers: Soultari Amin Farid, Dalisa Pigram and Zee Zunnur with Ahmat Bin Fadal
Cultural Dramaturg: Soultari Amin Farid; Dramaturg: Rachael Swain
Composer, Sound Designer and Performer: Safuan Bin Johari
Set Designer: Abdul-Rahman Abdullah; Costume Designer: 
Zoë Atkinson
Lighting Designer: Kelsey Lee
Pearl Diving History and Malay Cultural Advisor, Silat Training: Ahmat Bin Fadal

Mutiara is an important expressive dance work, especially when presented in this kind of Festival.  Though there was a smaller audience than I would have hoped, it was clear that people were there with a positive expectation of the work, as dance and as cultural history.

Because of the different elements of the history of the pearling industry in north-western Australia and the way the European colonists related to the Malay divers; to the Australian Indigenous people; and to relationships between all three communities, it is a good idea to read the above information from the Marrugeku website and spend some time in the foyer exhibition before seeing the show.  

Then you will more easily appreciate the shifts in dance style, the highly original set design, and the combination of music and voice in the soundscape.  This is not a conventional linear story, but works in the ancient Aboriginal tradition that all the past is here now, together in the present.

The effect, as emotions are expressed in response to all those different elements, is to create not just a critical approach to colonialism, but a kind of wonder at the nature of this community, particular to the Broome and surrounding coastal region. Having driven more than once all those thousands of kilometres from my eastern Australia home to Broome and north to Cape Leveque, and seen some of the 130 million-years-old dinosaur footprints, it’s fascinating to gain a new understanding of life there today – in an original local modern dance form.

For me, a special value of this work is that it is cross-cultural.  It is a new way of expressing understanding and feelings of the Aboriginal, the Malay, and the European-based people; and the inter-related people of all three communities.  The establishment of such a company as Marrugeku Inc looks forward to a new and better world.

Though having only a short season here at the Sydney Festival, check the website for future tour opportunities.

Pearl Divers of Broome
Foyer Exhibition, Mutiara 2024