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Australian Dance Theatre, in association with Ilbijerri Theatre Company
Bay 20, Carriageworks
Reviewed January 10

Brigel Gjoka, Rauf “RubberLegz” Yasit & Ruşan Filiztek
Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Reviewed January 13

This year Sydney Festival audiences were fortunate to be the first to see Australian Dance Theatre’s world premiere of Tracker. Choreographed and co-directed (with Rachael Maza) by ADT’s Artistic Director Daniel Riley, this dance-theatre work touches on the personal story of Riley’s Great-Great Uncle Alec “Tracker” Riley. It draws links between his experience of living between two cultures in such a nuanced and sensitive way that it was easy to understand how his story connects to to the ongoing challenges experienced by First Nations people in Australia today.

A scene from 'Tracker': performers are Kaine Sultan-Babij and Tyrel Dulvarie. Photo by Pedro Greia.
A scene from 'Tracker': performers are Kaine Sultan-Babij and Tyrel Dulvarie. Photo by Pedro Greia.

Tracker is dance-theatre rather than pure dance, and a significant part of its impact comes from the monologues (written by Ursula Yovich and Amy Sole) which were delivered outstandingly well by actor Abbie-lee Lewis on opening night. (In his introductory speech to the audience, Daniel Riley explained that this lead role had been developed and rehearsed by actor Ari Maza-Long and that Lewis had less than a week of rehearsals to learn the part when Maza-Long could no longer attend the premiere.)

In essence, Abbie-lee Lewis plays a descendant of Alec “Tracker” Riley on a mission to understand her past and present by simultaneously delving into the records of his life and going "on country" where he lived and worked. As a Wiradjuri elder and tracker, Alec served the NSW Police Force for 40 years, leading searches for numerous high-profile cases involving missing people, criminal activity and murder. Several specific cases are touched on, including that of Ruby – a young woman found dead in a body of water – and that of a lost boy who was found eight months after he disappeared on a hill where Riley had anticipated he would be found. However, it turns out that glowing reviews of Riley’s abilities and contribution to the work of the NSW Police Force by his former bosses made no difference to the way he and his community were treated by Australian authorities when he eventually retired.

Abbie-lee Lewis was joined on stage by three dancers (Tyrel Dulvarie, Rika Hamaguchi and Kaine Sultan-Babij) and one live musician and co-composer Gary Watling. All five performed as guest artists of Australian Dance Theatre.

Tracker has an episodic structure in which monologues by Abbie-lee Lewis are interspersed with sections of dance. The spoken text communicates the detail of the story whereas the movement is used more generally to create atmosphere, and in some sections to more literally illustrate specific stories within the narrative. Daniel Riley’s choreography isn’t overly technical or virtuosic but it is sensitively performed and provides atmospheric and dreamlike interludes to the spoken text, breaking up the many smaller stories within this piece into manageable chunks and giving the audience a chance to reflect briefly on each one before the next. Rika Hamaguchi danced a moving solo as the tragic Ruby in one section; and at several points all three dancers physically guided and lifted Abbie-lee Lewis as though they were unseen spirits helping her on her journey of discovery.

Jonathon Jones’s circular set design was simple but very effective. The metal frame had lights at ground level which glowed different colours (eg. blue for water and red for fire) at different points in the narrative. Meanwhile the upper frame acted as a motorised support for a transparent fabric printed with a bush landscape that rotated at various points so that sections of the audience (seated on three sides of the stage) could have uninterrupted views of the action at different points. Costume designer Ailsa Paterson dressed the performers mostly in casual denim outfits with a few minor costume changes for individual performers at specific points. There is a long list of credits for people who contributed to Tracker in a variety of ways; suffice to say my overall impression was of a highly cohesive and coherent work, so congratulations to all contributors. 

What makes this work more appealing, and potentially a lot more accessible to audiences from non-indigenous backgrounds than many previous works aimed at truth telling via dance-theatre, is the way that it takes you on a journey of discovery alongside the lead actor. Crucially, the darker elements of this narrative are counterbalanced by lighter, quite beautiful imagery and the narrative keeps moving forwards at a steady pace. Tracker is a thought-provoking but uplifting work which left me wanting to know more about Alec Riley’s considerable accomplishments, and with more insight into the ongoing intergenerational trauma and disadvantage experienced by First Nations people today.


Neighbours is the Australian premiere of a collaboration or conversation between two dancers from different backgrounds. In 2018 b-boy Rauf “Rubberlegz” Yasit and contemporary/ballet trained dancer Brigel Gjoka met while working in choreographer William Forsythe’s A Quiet Evening of Dance. In addition to their different training backgrounds in dance are the cultural ones of their Albanian (Gjoka) and Kurdish (Yasit) roots. Co-choreographed by the two dancer/performers in collaboration with William Forsythe, this one-hour work is all about dance, with absolute focus on the movement itself.

Brigel Gjoka (left) and Rauf Yasit. Photo by Ursula Kaufmann
Brigel Gjoka (left) and Rauf Yasit. Photo by Ursula Kaufmann

They perform on a stage bare of any set except for the presence of composer and musician Ruslan Filiztek in one upstage corner surrounded by an assortment of instruments. Interestingly, despite the presence of the musician onstage from the very beginning, the first half of this work is performed in virtual silence, with the only sound being the breath of the dancers and the intermittent click of a tongue against the roof of a moth or the click of a finger to communicate a shared rhythm between them. It’s a testament to their rapport and to how well rehearsed this piece is that that they can move in sync for a considerable length of time in quite complex ever-changing rhythms without music to guide their senses.

At times one dancer steps forward to take the lead but for the most part they are dancing together onstage for almost a full hour and the detailed complexity of the movements they perform makes it clear just how talented these dancers are. Neighbours must be a huge test of stamina, as a lot of the choreography is quite fast paced. Yasit and Gjoka give 100% from the very beginning and the intensity of their focus is directed inwards rather than projecting outwards to the audience. This gives the work a meditative feel, yet despite the undisputed talent of these dancers I could feel my focus waning over the course of the piece. Perhaps because, having started so strongly, there wasn’t really much further they could take their performance, or perhaps it was this works’ emphasis on process rather than product that failed to really satisfy.

The addition of music about 30 minutes into the piece (part of which was played live, and part of which seemed to be recorded) added a haunting tone and it was at this point that the lighting changed and the stage grew darker, making it harder to see the dancers (and in particular, their faces) as clearly as before. One hour is a long time to listen to a conversation between two people, but if you cannot fully hear or "see" what they are saying it has the potential to feel even longer. Nevertheless, Neighbours is worth watching for the movement skills of the two dancers, especially for aficionados of dance who will surely revel in the breadth and mastery of their combined technical, rhythmic and dynamic range.


'Tracker' will be performed at the Perth Festival from March 1-4 and the Adelaide Festival from March 10-18.



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