Marrugeku never loses the power to grab at the heart in surprising ways. Two years ago Jurrungu Ngan-ga [Straight Talk] over-flowed with huge emotions and a burning desire to give names and faces to jailed First Nations people, long-sequestered refugees and people whose lives defy the norm. It was a big, stirring piece of dance theatre performed with ferocious energy by a cast of 10.

This year’s Sydney Festival sees the world premiere of a strikingly different work, Mutiara. It was commissioned by the Perth Festival and opens there in February.

Dalisa Pigram and Zee Zunnur in Marrugeku’s Mutiara. Photo © Michael Jalaru Torres

The subject is Broome’s famous pearling industry, one that in earlier days was notable for its exploitation of workers, including First Nations people and indentured Malays. A topic, in other words, tailormade for Marrugeku’s unique intercultural perspective.

The industry’s history would lead one to expect a work bristling with anger but Mutiara defies that expectation. It doesn’t shy away from wrongs but Mutiara is not a polemic. Constructed from personal experiences and shards of history, it’s a surprisingly delicate, otherworldly memory piece into which one has to...