The stories that are showcased in this performance are older than every man-made structure known to us. This fact inspired award-winning and critically acclaimed artist Jacob Boehme, of Kaurna and Narungga nations, to showcase these ancient tales, bringing together the old ways with new methods of storytelling.

However, it takes a community to protect, preserve and empower these stories of creation, and this is reflected in Guuranda. Even before the lights go down we are greeted by the voices of Elders present, a recurring anchor as we are plunged into their echoing ripples from the past.

Guuranda, the Narungga term for the landmass that is colonially known as the Yorke Peninsula, takes us on an epic journey through three significant creation stories from the “foot in the water” peninsula. ­There’s the story of Buthera, a Narungga giant who literally left his marks all over Guuranda. And of Gadli, a lying boy who was cursed to become a dingo for telling lies, which links with the story of why the owl was cursed to darkness.

Most importantly, perhaps, is the creation story of Spencer Gulf. Spencer Gulf is the water between Yorke Peninsula and Eyre Peninsula and in the Narungga creation story that gulf was once a huge valley. There was only one waterhole in this valley and the birds would argue about who was prettiest as they stared at their own reflection in the water. This led to much fighting and even war between the animals until Nhandhu, the Kangaroo Lawman, advised by dreams from Djindrin (Willy Wagtail) and spurred to action by Garrdi (Emu), struck the ground with a magical bone, cracking the earth and letting the sea flood in. This gave Guuranda the shape it has now. This story effectively details the rising of sea levels that occurred during the last ice age approximately 11,000 years ago.

The traditional dancers are an ever-present heartbeat on stage. Photo: Tim Standing

The use of visual projections and animations are impressive, immersive and innovative. Original paintings by artist Kylie O’Loughlin (Narungga/Nantowarra Kaurna) make up the various backdrops that frame the action with their warm hues and striking shapes that effortlessly feed back into the championing of culture from Country. The wonder and awe that the visuals demand are not to be understated, from the use of puppetry to projected sequences on various surfaces which all come together to create a show that feels larger than life.

In among all these visual cornerstones, the traditional dancers are an ever-present heartbeat on stage. The First Nations dancers from all over Australia have a graceful ease in which they inhabit the world on stage, reflecting their own personal experiences of country and culture in the devising of the choreography. It’s a collaborative process and presence that allows this production to overflow with scintillating energy.

Visual projections are part of the storytelling in Guuranda. Photo: Tim Standing

Warren Milera (Narungga/Adnyamathanha) and Sonya Rankine (Ngarrindjeri, Ngadjuri, Narungga, Wirangu) play the songwoman and songman – the musical narrators who guide us in language through the various vignettes of action. Their presence, projected through almost the entirety of the production on large screens that flank the stage, is ineffably epic and culturally authoritative, giving their melodies and words immense weight.

The composer, James Henry (Yorta Yorta, Yuin, Yuwaalaraa, Gamilaraay peoples), has a deft touch in creating a timelessly ethereal soundscape that pulses the show forward and accentuates the story in a truly mesmerising manner.

Guuranda, is an expertly woven tapestry of traditional stories that will hold your heart up and envelope your mind. Come sit with an ancient past that beats strong and true from across the gulf.

Guuranda is showing at Her Majesty’s Theatre again on Saturday, March 2, at 2pm and 8pm, and March 3 at 2pm.

Read more 2024 Adelaide Festival coverage here.

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