Bangarra Dance Theatre – wasn’t it once Bangarra Aboriginal Dance Theatre? – has a new boss in Frances Rings. She’s a former dancer and creator of seven works before with the company. She’s a Kokatha woman from the Wirangu and Mirning clans, brought up in South Australia on the Nullabor Plain as a result of her German father’s work on the Trans-Australian Railway.

For her Aboriginal people, the soak at Ooldea/Yuldea was a ceremonial gathering place and an essential source of water for millenia. The Railway did its best to destroy that relationship, for the water was also vital for getting the “great steel snake” as Rings refers to it from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie.

Capturing this complex layered story was Rings’s ambition, requiring her own and the dance company’s visits to Country to gather relevant Anangu background and get their permission to translate it into dance for a major work that has just started an east coast tour.

I’m not sure that these protocols were really necessary. For, while Rings proves herself a master of dynamic, eye-catching abstract choreography, none of it suggested Kokatha ceremonial dance to me. But the complexities of a story that, in the program at least, begins with a message from the skies that unwanted change is coming, continues to emphasise the importance of Kapi/water in this desert world, and then intrudes the whitefellars in various forms – distant King/Emperor, railway, church and atomic bomb testing – then ending with the eternal spirit of Yuldea passed on by the Elders, weren’t that obvious.

I malign Ms Rings. For a brief period, the rare sight of a single dancer on stage, lying down, twisting and turning under the assault of Maralinga’s ‘Black Rain’ – an inescapable cloud of black paper pieces that coat his body – told an awful truth powerfully. It was the perfect coming together of story, choreography, set and lighting design and pulsing electronic music that have often been achieved in Bangarra’s illustrious past that dates back to ‘Ochres’ some 30 years ago.

The undoubted stars of ‘Yuldea’ are the seventeen dancers who irrepressibly maintained a flow of frenetic movement for over an hour. They were certainly assisted by designer Elizabeth Gadsby – fresh from the extraordinary set for the Sydney Chamber Opera production of ‘Antarctica’- hanging a swathe of ropes through which all entrances and exits were made; and by Karen Norris’s incisive lighting.

I do believe one scene involved the construction of appropriate Western Desert wiltja/houses – their curves reflecting both the hang of the ropes and the dominant white curve that hung over proceedings.

Musically, I most enjoyed the contribution of Electric Fields – featuring the ethereal Pitjanjatjara voice of Wynne Prize-winning artist Zaachariaha Fielding – portraying the survival of the Yuldea Spirit with what felt like a mellow Caribbean rhythm.

Bangarra Dance Theatre performs Yuldea at Sydney Opera House, until 15 July; Canberra Theatre Centre, 20–22 July; Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide, 10–12 August; Queensland Performing Arts Centre, 31 August – 9 September; Arts Centre Melbourne, 27 September – 7 October; and Ulumburra Theatre, Bendigo, 13–14 October.