This world premiere work for Brisbane Festival is a moving and haunting piece of theatre that will linger with you long after you leave the New Benner Theatre at the Metro Arts bunker in West End, Brisbane.

Thomas E.S. Kelly sets the tone and from the moment we walk into the sparse space we know we are about to take part in an important ceremony.

The solo dance work by the Minjunbal-Yugambeh, Wiradjuri and Ni-Vanuatu artist and the company he established, Karul Projects, honours and pays homage to First Nation’s lives lost during colonisation.

In an incredibly physical and visceral way, that explains the gravity of the ongoing toll helping us connect to the story.

Through vivid and at times frenetic movement Thomas E.S. Kelly bridges the gap between physical and spiritual realms.

In the ceremony he acknowledges that First Nations people are descendants of those who fought for land, family and identity, and helps us all understand this from an Indigenous perspective.

Kuramanunya starts with Indigenous language that draws you into this world. While splashes of humour help process this harrowing subject matter you can feel the presence of the ghosts of generations past in this world Kelly creates inside his circle of stones.

In a beautiful conclusion to the show, Kelly invites all in the audience who want to take part to come down into the circle and place a leaf in the coolamon, to start a new songline going forward for this nation. There are also counsellors available after the show for people who find the subject matter difficult.

In the show we see glimpses of frontier wars and massacres, while Kelly reminds us that there are places where you can’t get welcomed to country, because there is no-one left from the First Peoples of that land to do so. This ceremony ensures they are not forgotten, by talking to and acknowledging the spirits that came before him.

Speaking to Thomas E.S. Kelly before the show, this approach is a very deliberate choice.

He said Kuramanunya was prompted by his own experience.

“I went to a place and we couldn’t get welcomed by the community from the known tribal group from that area because there’s no-one existing anymore, at least publicly,” Kelly said.

“And the people who were other uncles and elders from the areas were saying stuff like – well, as long as they’ve been around, they’ve never met someone from those communities.

“As I started thinking about that idea with my work, I started hearing about other people who don’t exist in certain areas. And it started becoming a bigger thing.

“I started thinking about all of the groups British colonisation erased, whole family lines and bloodlines gone where no one is still walking from that lineage today.

“It got me thinking about those groups of people who didn’t survive. Who sent them back, who gave them their ceremony to head to the spirit world, back to the Dreaming, or are they still lingering waiting to be sent home?

“So that’s kind of in a nutshell what Kuramanunya is about.”

As the show progresses Kelly vividly paints, with his body, how these ancestors disappeared.

He said he deliberately designed the show so that it was accessible to anyone, regardless of their background.

“When I say it’s for everybody, I mean yeah, it’s for everybody because mob are going to get this from it and non-Indigenous mob are going to get this from it,” he said.

“And then the Australian community, whatever you are, will get this from it.

“And then there are international people, it’s the Brisbane Festival, so there are people who aren’t Australian who will understand a little bit.

“Intergenerational trauma is there, it exists. It is the living, breathing little weight on our shoulders that we carry on a daily basis.

“I’m trying to find ways of bringing us together and heal through these things and empower and strengthen us. That’s what I’m really trying to do.”

Kuramanunya continues until Saturday September 16 at Metro Arts New Benner Theatre

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