Marrow Adelaide Festival 2024Adelaide Festival. Australian Dance Theatre. Odeon Theatre. Choreography: Daniel Riley. 13 Mar 2024


An opening night invited set. A premiere of a new work. The 60th year of Australia’s longest running contemporary dance ensemble to be celebrated and an Arts Minister and also the company’s founder in attendance. There was much to celebrate.


As Daniel Riley explained to the full house, Marrow was conceived and delivered as a response to the ‘No’ vote against the Voice to Parliament referendum of last year. Riley is a Wiradjuri man and the title, then, suggests a deep-seated response, as in ‘I feel it in my marrow’… the welcome from Major Moogy Sumner sets a scene of great importance, and of reconciliation, but make no mistake, Marrow is a piece of dance which lays bare the pain and the rejection, a legacy of a lifetime yet just on six months ago. The wounds are fresh, the dance shot through with symbolism, a hunting motif draws a picture of a people who were tracked down and persecuted, or slaughtered.


There is an element of the furtive about the work. There is no bright sunlight of the Australian bush; there are shadows and shapes and faces hinted out as figures move and writhe. What may have been a thunderstorm reveals itself as the drumroll of gunfire. The lighting is for the most part subdued, by design (Matthew Adey) and intent, though at one moment a sharply piercing white pinspot transfixes the audience. If it were intended to be disconcerting, it succeeded. There is smoke; a great deal of smoke which seems more funerary than celebration. This is a work of darkness, and in places of foul deeds. A bolt of cloth is rolled and folded to approximate a body, trussed with cable ties, then hauled aloft. It is a striking moment, a commentary on the cruelty which continues to this day. It is not visceral, and oddly, it is less than emotional for the audience, though it’s message – writ large – is crystal clear.


My problem, then, is that there is a confusion in the contributions of dance, of lighting, and of sound, and it begins with the score, which is the most striking and leading aspect of the whole work. Broadly described as techno with an industrial bent, James Howard’s score guides the dance experience, adding flavour and style and rather dominating proceedings. Without it I would have been lost; there is a scene where the techno turns to water, the babbling of water a beautifully realised transition. But at some of the most important points it dominates what is still at heart a piece of contemporary dance. To my mind the dancers – there are six of them, Sebastian Geilings, Brianna Kell, Zachary Lopez, Karra Nam, Patrick O’Luanaigh and Zoe Wozniak – were excellent, both individually and as a corps, yet they faced a difficult task in making themselves the focal point. The stage was dim (I might say dulled) by lighting, by smoke, by surrounding drapes, and the dancers themselves dressed in what may have been sackcloth.


Only in the final scene, when the side panels of the stage are torn down to let the light flood in, do we see what – surely – was a deliberate restoring of our senses. Marrow is an important piece of work, but a watershed? Perhaps not.


Alex Wheaton


When: 13 to 17 Mar

Where: Odeon Theatre