Review By Rowan Brunt
Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following article contains the name of someone who has passed.
There is so much present with this piece that highlights the success (and potential) of Australian storytelling, particularly from a First Nations perspective. It brings to the stage text, movement, dance, music, design and a snippet from history that both successfully uncovers a part of the narrative of this country but is pertinent and challenges where we are skipping a beat in the current one.
Presented at Carriageworks within Sydney Festival, Tracker is the first work of Australian Dance Theatre’s artistic director Daniel Riley. What is unique, and also worth taking note, is that this piece does not have the traditional auteur approach, but welcomes into the piece many creative minds including a collaboration with ILBIJERRI Theatre Company which means that it is rich of meaning and heart throughout. Co-directed by Rachael Maza AM, this piece drew upon the talents of award-winning playwright Ursula Yovich, composer James Henry, visual artist Jonathan Jones and an all First Nations cast.
An interweaving story of dance, music and text, Tracker uncovers the evocative story of Riley’s Great-great Uncle Alex “Tracker” Riley, a Wiradjuri elder and tracker serving over 40 years on the NSW Police force at the beginning of the 20th Century. Riley story is told through one actor, his great-great nephew and three dancers who recount some of his most famous cases, shifting from modern day where our actor (played by Abbie-lee Lewis) investigates her ancestors past and marvels at his craft and reasons hs actions and to Riley himself where he leads us through the bush, uncovering the cases with the aid of the three dancers (Tyrel Dulvarie, Rika Hamaguchi, Kaine Sultan-Babij) as various elements and spirits. A particularly moving moment in the piece is Riley speaking to the spirit of a young woman who had gone missing and was later found in the river, the choreography erratic yet fragile as Riley coerces this spirit to allow him to take her home.
It is important to note that in this performance, original actor Ari Maza Long, who was due to play both Tracker Riley and his great-great nephew, had to suddenly pull out because of the unexpected death of his grandmother and Abbie-lee Lewis stepped in to hold this space and continue the wonderful work of the Tracker company. Lewis should be commended for the generosity in their performance, but also malleability, allowing the choreography and text to lead her through, being the conduit of the work and remaining honest to the piece at all times.
The scenic and set, designed by Merindah Funnell and Jonathan Jones respectively, welcomes the audience into a 270 degree experience, with sheer cloth shrouding the stage at different times, evoking land, space and emotion. My only regret is to not have sat with a side view to have experienced this design element with a stronger perspective. The choreography is so emotive as it embodies multiple aspects of the story; the feeling of water and environment, the earth shifting and becoming a guide or a spirit themselves breaking free from their mortal bodies. It truly is a multi disciplinary piece of the theatre that has been held so gently by this community of creatives.
If you can’t make it to this Sydney Festival itteraton keep an eye out for it’s Perth Festival and Adelaide Festival performances.
Image Credit: Pedro Greig