Monday, March 13, 2023





Co-Director & Choreographer Daniel Riley. Co-Director Rachael Maza AM. Writers Ursula Yovich and Amy Sole Set Designer Jonathan Jones. Composer & Sound Designer James Henry. Composer & Live Musician Gary Watling. Lighting Designer Chloë Ogilvie. Costume Designer Ailsa Paterson. Performers Tyrel Dulvarie, Rika Hamaguchi, Ari Maza Long and Kaine Sultan-Babij. Dramaturgs Amy Sole and Jennifer Medway. Project Elders Aunty Shirley Mathews and Aunty Ann Cribb. Wiradjuri Language Translator Aunty Dianne Riley-McNaboe. Scenic Artist Merindah Funnell, Producer Erin Milne. Production Manager  Nathan Evers. Stage Manager Lyndie Li Wan Po. Technical Supervisor Clinton Camac. Ilbijerri Theatre Company and Australian Dance Theatre. Odeon Theatre, Adelaide Festival March 10-19 2023

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


Australia Dance Theatre and Ilbijerri Theatre Company’s Adelaide Festival offering, Tracker is a dramatic monologue with dance. It could be regarded as drama with dance rather than dance theatre. Tracker is the story of artistic director Daniel Riley’s Great Grand Uncle on his father’s side. Sergeant Alexander Riley was a highly regarded aboriginal tracker with the NSW police force for almost forty years. His story is a fascinating one. His connection to country and his understanding of the land and ability to read the lessons of the land is a lesson to us all to listen, to see and follow the heart. One of the company plays Daniel Riley, a descendant now living in the city. There is a touch of ironic comedy at the opening of the performance as he discovers that his orienteering skills are limited as he sets out to trace his ancestor’s life as a police tracker. There is an  underlying sense of loss as he helplessly attempts to read the map before him.

 We are told of Alexander Riley’s instinctive ability to uncover the truth through observations of the signs in Nature. He leads police to the missing body of Ruby Green, thrown into the river after dying from a self-attempted abortion. He leads police to the body of a missing boy, eight months after his disappearance. He helps police to find and apprehend serial killer Andrew Moss and discover stolen goods in a hollowed out tree by following a trail of ants carrying the stolen sugar. He is credited with the capture of bushranger Roy Governor. The narration is told clearly with accompanying dance by the spirits of the bush that taught him the signs and accompanied him on his search. It is a fascinating insight into Riley’s acute knowledge of country .  It is a story that should be told and a lesson that should be learned. Sadly the dance contributes little to the drama.  The choreography is repetitive and much of it is confined to floor work. There are moments when it escapes the pull to the earth and begins to respond to the dramatic score, played on the synthesizer. All too soon however the action returns to the narrator, who reads accounts of Riley’s adventures from his notes.

 In a final scene the actor playing Daniel Riley assumes the character of his ancestor, later in life and living on a reserve, and wearing a watch he received on retirement, the only acknowledgement of four decades of service to the white man’s laws. The anger spurts forth, not from the mouth of the kind and good Alex Riley, but from the descendant. It is the anger of accusation, didactic and forceful. Anger is no substitute for art. They can co-exist but ADT ‘s  creative mission is to tell stories through theatre and dance. Brecht’s Epic Theatre exhorts an audience to judge. The story and the theatrical form enable that judgement to occur. 

 Marrugeku Dance Theatre in
Jurrungu Ngan-ga (Straight Talk) also voiced their anger at the deaths in custody, the erosion of culture and identity and the suicides on Manus and Nauru. It is an anger, visible and palpable today, against the white police and the white man’s policies.  It is an anger , shared by any kind and good person told through innovative and theatrically striking and diverse contemporary dance. Its message is clear, its criticism specific and its performance dynamic. 

In fairness, I found the space at the Odeon Theatre restrictive. I don’t doubt the talent of the dancers and especially the female dancer, but I felt that they were confined by space and narrative. I was distracted by a moving scrim and a sense of confined space for the theatre to make its impact.  

is still a work in progress seeking to find its way through the art of theatre. The story of Alexander Riley is a story of exploitation and servitude. It is a story of lost opportunity by the white people to learn and value the lessons that can be learnt from First Nations people which go far beyond solving crimes. A work in progress teaches us to learn the power of art. I hope that Ilbijerri Theatre Company and Australian Dance Theatre will continue to develop the ideas and stories in Tracker into the exciting piece of theatre and communication that it can become.