Theatre review: tuylupa

A mesmerising experience full of heart and spirit – a story that spans millennia.

tuylupa captures the wonder of human existence unlike anything else you are likely to see in a theatre. 

The intricately crafted fusion of projection, dance, voice and synthesised sound tells the palawa (Tasmanian Aboriginal) story of creation and dance.

A collaboration between Tasmanian Aboriginal dance troupe pakana kanaplila and tech-art collective Soma Lumia, tuylupa is powerful, gentle and mesmerising, surreal yet convincing.

The opening projection scene takes you straight out of the theatre, to a faraway place and a timelessness before humanity. Through the clever use of projected imagery, lights, screens and silhouettes, landscapes seamlessly morph into human-like forms and the beginnings of human existence.

Featuring the smooth vocals of Dewayne Everettsmith, the calming voice of the youngest dancer Niara Mansell, thumping synthesised beats and even a gentle, serendipitous draught floating through the theatre, tuylupa is a delight for the imagination and the senses. 

While it almost seems unfair to single out one performer from a production that celebrates collaboration – even across thousands of generations and life as we know it – Harley Jac Mansell was outstanding. He seamlessly moved from gentle sways to what we know as Aboriginal dance style and if ever a performer channelled something from beyond the tangible, with respect and grace, it was Mansell on Saturday night. 

tuylupa is a tribute both to palawa ancestors and to the present day palawa community – a people who, against the odds, the savagery of British colonisation, attempted genocide and denial of identity from the broader community and government, have reclaimed and reinvigorated culture, and the tuylupa team are part of this.

Sinsa Mansell, the co-founder of pakana kanaplila, says the dance troupe has been working for decades to reclaim traditional dance practices. 

For anyone that knows the back story, which is too big to fit into a theatre review, they will know tuylupa is a triumph and celebration, and performed with great generosity.

Sinsa Mansell decribes tuylupa as ‘the spark of fire through a weightless universe’, which ‘travels slowly drawing all elements together, the eternal spark that’s been handed down since the beginning of time through generations of ceremonial knowledge … [It] is a reminder of responsibility, that we are a country that is ancient and culturally significant. tuylupa is born from deep time, when the sun and moon lapse, there is creation of the oldest living culture. We are Country – Country is us’.

For a show that traces more than 60,000 years of the palawa journey and the island of lutruwita/Tasmania, its postponement due to COVID did not make a scrap of difference. If anything it probably gave the team a little more time to refine the performance. It’s a timeless story and, in a world of uncertainty catapulting towards a scarily changing climate, it is even more poignant right now.

Read: From coast to Country, First Nations artists celebrated

You are likely to leave the theatre looking forward to star gazing beneath a clear night sky to ponder existence and eternity: what has been and what is to come – the concept of time and humanity itself. 

by pakana kanaplila and Soma Lumia
Presented by Tasdance and Mona Foma in conjunction with Theatre Royal, Mona Foma, Hobart

Concept and Dance: Sinsa Mansell, Harley Jac Mansell, Niara Mansell, Jamie Graham, Janice Ross, Nathan Pitchford (pakana kanaplila)
Augmented Reality: Darryl Rogers and Troy Merritt (Soma Lumia)
Musician and Songwriter: Dewayne Everettsmith (Skinnyfish)
Music Producer: James Mangohig (Skinnyfish)
Lighting and Production: Chris Jackson (IO Performance) 

Costume Design: Michelle Maynard
Rehearsal Director: Gabriel Comerford (Tasdance)
Producers: Adam Wheeler and Emma Porteus (Tasdance)

tuylupa was performed from 20-22 October at Theatre Royal, and returns to Launceston from 17-19 February 2023 and Hobart from 24-26 February 2023. 

For over two decades palawa women Jillian Mundy, from nipaluna (Hobart) has been taking stories of her people, and other First Nations people to the world in the Koori Mail. The award-winning photographer, writer, emerging filmmaker and sometimes artist, hopes her work has a positive influence, whether playing a part in righting a wrong, educating, inspiring, making someone’s heart swell with pride or simply brightening their day.