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Review: GUURANDA at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide 

Review by Lisa Lanzi

An alumnus of NAISDA (Diploma in Dance) and the Victorian College of the Arts, (Masters in Writing for Performance, Masters in Puppetry), Jacob Boehme is a Melbourne-born, Narangga and Kaurna creator of multi-disciplinary, wide-ranging performance work.  His latest work is Guuranda, commissioned by the Adelaide Festival.  It premiered this week, a monumental mingling of theatre, song, puppetry, and dance, plus digital and visual art.

It is exciting to witness so much First Nation’s artistic and cultural input within this 2024 Festival, particularly Guuranda which references a beloved area of South Australia and the Narangga custodians and creation stories of that country.  Nicola Benedetti, director of Adelaide’s ‘sister’ Festival, the Edinburgh Festival, used the slogan “where do we go from here?” as a starting point for her directorship; the quote rising from Dr Martin Luther King’s book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?  Including First Nations people and culture on this grand Festival scale certainly models a positive approach toward more interconnected, cohesive, and resilient communities and fosters cultural integrity.

Referring to various creation tales significant to the Narungga people Guuranda is written and directed by Jacob Boehme and aided by Elders / dramaturgs / cultural consultants Uncle Rex Angie (Narungga, Kaurna, Bungala, Nauo, Wirangu, Ngadjuri), Aunty Deanna Newchurch (Narungga, Kaurna, Adnyamathanha, Ngaduri, Ngarrindjeri), Uncle Eddie Newchurch (Narungga, Kaurna, Adnyamathanha, Ngaduri, Ngarrinderi), and Aunty Lynette Newchurch (Narungga, Kaurna, Adnyamathanha, Ngaduri, Ngarrinderi).  Elders were also featured in audio recordings that bookended sections of the work.  Storied characters included Buthera, a Narungga giant, Gadli, a lying boy cursed to become a dingo, and Winda an owl cursed to live in the darkness of caves, never to see daylight again.  Also featured are Djindrin (Willy Wagtail), Garrdi (Emu) and Nhandhu, the Kangaroo Lawman who struck the ground with a magical bone, cracking the earth so seawater could flood in, shaping the landscape of Guuranda.  A helpful songbook with lyrics and translations can be found on the Adelaide Festival program page.

Songwoman Sonya Rankine (Ngarrindjeri, Ngadjuri, Narungga, Wirangu) and songman Warren Milera (Narungga/Adnyamathanha), were seen performing for the most part on giant, angled side stage screens gracing the space with their dreamlike and majestic presence.  Songs and music accompanied both dance, digital, and puppetry sequences and the two singers appeared in reality toward the finale, interacting with the dancers on stage.  Rankine was also responsible for Narungga language translation and melodies, with music from James Henry (Yorta Yorta, Yuin, Yuwaalaraa, Gamilaraay) and lyrics either from Boehme or traditional sources.  Also projected on screen was the gathered Narungga Family Choir (including Jacob Boehme) who loomed large upstage at various intervals, united vocally in tradition, story, community, and family.  Western-style orchestral and electronic music combines with songs in language to provide a soaring, cinematic score that drives action and narrative.

The eclectic movement passages merged traditional and contemporary choreographic language in episodes strikingly illuminated by Jenny Hector’s creative lighting design.  The highly reflective stage surface meant the richly coloured, upstage digital projections of Kylie O’Loughlin’s (Narungga, Nantowarra Kaurna) artwork was writ large in two dimensions.  Kathryn Sproul’s sumptuous costume designs complemented the movement and intention of the dancers, helping to manifest characterization in each scene.  The costumes also sat beautifully alongside the exquisite puppets designed and made by Philip Millar.  One standout sequence featured a human-like puppet manipulated by two dancers and traversing a moving, living landscape shaped by the shifting bodies of the ensemble.

Boehme has employed eight First Nations dancers who are also credited as choreographic associates.  These women and men hail from many different First Nations groups across Australia.  As an ensemble, they all dance with focus and care, passion and integrity.  Some truly shone in solo and duet work, however those dancers’ stronger technical ability stood out markedly in group sections.  At times the unison work was not as strong as it needed to be so that some out of sync gesture and movement distracted, as opposed to creating, for example, the cohesive movement of a group of birds.

The tremendous scope of this work is astonishing; the melding of so many creative arts on stage a triumph and a great example of an immense creative team assembled to guide a large-scale project.  While the range of visual projection and animation used was impressive it did sometimes overwhelm the live action.  In a moving image section where silhouettes were projected onto five, suspended, pebble-shaped and moveable screens, it was striking but simply too long.  In the ‘best of all possible worlds’ (and where finance is no barrier) I would love to see this production staged outdoors in a magnificent natural setting.  As much as I truly admired the whole and applaud the magnitude of the vision, I did not connect viscerally with it - perhaps the episodic nature prevented that, or perhaps my white, European self is not far-sighted enough.  I longed desperately to be blown away but somehow Guuranda didn’t have a cohesive impact for me.

As a multi-disciplinary, long-term project Guuranda is truly important.  It is a significant accomplishment for the very talented, visionary Jacob Boehme and a shining example of collaboration.  Hopefully the production will have a life after this Festival outing.  I am sure it would be appreciated internationally.

Image Supplied


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