SIGN UP for our newsletter ✉️ :

Get the latest stories delivered straight to you

Tale of Tracker's past shows future of black theatre

The first self-determined piece of black theatre ever made by Australia's oldest contemporary dance company has premiered at its home venue in Adelaide.

Tracker, choreographed by the Australian Dance Theatre's new artistic director, Daniel Riley, tells the story of his great-great-uncle who was a tracker for NSW police.

Alec "Tracker" Riley solved tragic and almost impossible-to-crack cases in the NSW bush over 40 years using his deep knowledge of Wiradjuri country.

His tale is told through dance, innovative stage design, live music and spoken word, with questions for how his family might live today.

Daniel Riley uncovered his ancestor's story through talking to his elders and extensive archival research, including in the National Library's Trove database.

But the version of events written by white colonisers at the time was only one side of the story, with much left out, the Wiradjuri choreographer told AAP.

"It was always really, really important to me that we uncover the truth, that we don't shy away from the hard conversations," he said.

"Because that's an element of truth telling that we need to be doing in this country, talking about the hard stuff."

Tracker goes to some dark places, telling the stories of children lost in the bush, women found dead, and even serial killers.

There's a sting in the tail too: Alec Riley was sent to live on a mission with no pension once his police service was up, only to see the mission closed down.

Tracker opened at Australian Dance Theatre's home, the Odeon in Adelaide, as part of the Adelaide Festival on Friday, with US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy in the audience as well as federal Arts Minister Tony Burke.

The show represents nothing less than the future of black theatre, co-director Rachael Maza told them.

"It's been an extraordinary honour to work alongside this next generation of extraordinarily talented leadership," she said before the show.

Australian Dance Theatre executive director Nick Hays agrees it's an important work..

"It's the first self-determined piece of black theatre that ADT has ever made, and we are the oldest contemporary dance company in the country," he told AAP.

The first Indigenous director of a non-First Nations dance company in Australia, Riley said he has been warmed by the response so far.

"For audiences to be so welcoming and moved by the importance of story like this and the importance of cultural icons, it means a lot actually," he said.

The crew are first nations too, including composers James Henry and Gary Watling, visual artist Jonathan Jones and lighting designer Chloe Ogilvie.

The show premiered at the Sydney Festival in January followed by shows in Perth earlier in March, and there are plans for tours to regional Australia and other capitals.

Tracker is on at Norwood's Odeon Theatre until March 18.

AAP travelled with the assistance of the Adelaide Festival.