Guuranda Adelaide Festival 2024Adelaide Festival. Insite Arts & Adelaide Festival. Her Majesty’s Theatre. 2 Mar 2024


Here is a landmark piece of First Nations theatre.


As a major Adelaide Festival Commissioned work, it reaches for the stars - and it almost catches them.


It certainly puts the name of its artistic director, writer, and choreographer, Jacob Boehme, up there in lights.

This Narungga Kaurna man has delivered choreographic ingenuity which steps lightly back into the integrity of Aboriginal traditional dance. He has extracted an essence, a timeless physical beauty and whimsy which draws not only on that delicious humour of our First Nations people but also their innate skill at mimicry. Like basket reeds of the river Murray, it is woven into the many and varied dance compositions of this complex work.


The program notes reveal that Guuranda is a telling of the Yorke-Peninsula, Narungga Country, origin stories.

To read this program, one must go online. It prints out in ten pages, and one wonders, with a Festival theatre production of such immense significance and doubtless, cost, why skimp on this essential piece of cultural communication? There is also a splendid art-illustrated song book downloadable.  While the production is a large-scale spectacle with video and song and dance and puppetry and overall technical brilliance, the Dreamtime stories, which ever were inscrutable to European minds, are as esoteric in narrative as they are dramatic to behold.


The production is largely sung in language with monumental video images of songman Warren Milera and songwoman Sonya Rankine flanking the stage. Superb.


Over and over again, the drama and beauty elicited by the lighting of this show takes the breath away. Ten out of ten to lighting designer Jenny Hector. 


There’s a huge family choir which comes, most literally, to light on the stage; women holding bubs, kids sitting at their feet. As the dancers move in front of them, the difference in scale reveals that they are illusory, a very clever video presence. And they sing and sing their “Narungga buggi buggilu” chorus about the beginning of Narungga Dreaming.


The music composed by James Henry is very strong with voices often in dirge, and sometimes with dramatic instrumental adornment. Recurring percussive expressions are quite profound.  There’s a constant echo of sorrow and anger. 


The raison d’etre of the piece is best explained by the Elders who are present in voice and video, filmed chatting around cups of tea perhaps at Point Pierce. They talk about the beloved Narungga landscape noting how farming can impede access to some sacred places. 


These Elders, Uncle Rex Angie, Aunty Deanna Newchurch, Uncle Eddie Newchurch and Aunty Ninni - are integral to the creation of the show and the stories they have told have come through the oral tellings of generations to showcase in this Festival.

Among them is Buthera, a Narungga giant who left marks all over Guuranda’s landscape and Gadli, a boy who was cursed to become a dingo for telling lies.


The dancers swirl and undulate their timeless landscape.  This insightful choreography, Boeme explains in the program notes, is based on the Memory in Movement ethos of Philipe Genty and Mary Underwood. There are some sensational dancers in the troupe. And the costumes are exciting, fascinating, and strikingly elegant under the design of Kathryn Sproul.


Indeed, there is much for admiration and wonderment. As for the puppets! The production has sourced right from the top. Philip Millar, formerly of Polyglot Theatre, has created vivid and characterful giant dogs, never to be forgotten. Dancers control them wiggling their bottoms to wag their doggy tails. And as for the massive emu…!

These gorgeous creatures mime storylines, each one offering a message of some kind. Good and evil. War and creation.


More tales are shown via interesting cartoon windows, big white portholes aloft on the stage, wherein shadow figures enact violent scenes with commentary in willy-wagtail song. These seem less successful, breaking cultural authority with cartoon-sound words. The schools’ groups in the audience relate to this, however, and at a moment of suspense, break out with their own sound effect. A welcome funny moment...


The production values of this show are ace. Kylie O’Loughlin’s artwork is ace. The technology is ace. The choreographer is close to genius.

There’s a lot of love on the stage and in the room.

But there could be more easily accessible explanation.


Samela Harris


When: 2 to 3 Mar

Where: Her Majesty’s Theatre