Stephen Page’s Last Dance: ‘Intrepid’ Bangarra Artistic Director Bows Out After 30 Years | To dance

As Stephen Page is preparing to make 2022 his final year as Artistic Director of Bangarra Dance Theater After 30 years at the helm, the spirits of family and kindness are at the forefront in the epic final production of this man of 56 years old.

During a lunch break during rehearsals in Sydney, Page said his late older brother, longtime Bangarra composer David Page, who died suddenly in 2016, would have loved to be part of his concluding work for the company.

“David would be really mad at me,” Page jokes, “because he would be“ Woah, ”you know,“ About the fucking time we make our story… we have [our] language, everything brings us closer to daddy’s country. ‘”

Stephen Page announces his departure from Bangarra Dance Theater - vidéo
Stephen Page announces his departure from Bangarra Dance Theater – vidéo

Page’s most personal work to date, for which 17 dancers, four musicians and five actors will share the stage, makes flesh the ancestral figure of Wudjang – performed by former Bangarra performer Elma Kris – aspiring to this may his uncovered bones be buried in the correct manner.

Wudjang: Not the Past uses a Mibinyah variety from Yugambeh in poetry and song, the language of the Guardians of South East Queensland and North East New South Wales, for whom Wudjang means mother, but also l spirit, combat and resilience of the mother figure.

The language belonged to Page’s late father, Roy, a Munaldjali from the Yugambeh nation, who took his children to Beaudesert country in the Gold Coast hinterland, where he spoke of traditions and spirits.

Page with Bangarra Baden dancers Hitchcock and Rika Hamaguchi after a SandSong premiere in June. Photograph: Dan Hambrechts / AAP

The show is not the story of the Page brothers – which was told in Wayne Blair and Nel Minchin’s documentary Firestarter – but it has an essence of the family’s cultural knowledge, being a series of “nine circles of stories. of vignettes ”combining Bangarra’s fusion between traditional and contemporary. dance to live music and songs.

Page co-wrote the text in English with playwright Alana Valentine. On stage, metal mining machines depicting the Western poison will be suspended above a huge boulder, demonstrating that Indigenous trauma is still present – but the show also contains the promise of reconnecting the crowd with the language. and culture.

During the long preparation for production, delayed by the Covid-19, Page consulted with his sister, Donna, the family’s language guardian. He also listened to a recording Donna kept in which, shortly before their father’s death, Roy shared his tongue with David.

Roy and Doreen Page had 12 surviving children together, born in the 1950s and 1960s and raised in the working-class Brisbane suburb of Mount Gravatt. “Dad was in his last days and felt safe speaking his language. He came from a generation where it was forbidden.

Frances Rings and Stephen Page
“We’ve been there for each other”: Page with Frances Rings, longtime friend and colleague. Photograph: Carly Earl / The Guardian

In 2023, Stephen Page will “pass the baton” to Frances Rings, who becomes artistic director of Bangarra after Wudjang: Not the Past concludes its performances at the Sydney and Adelaide festivals and in Hobart, and the previous work of the company SandSong is presented at the Kimberley of Western Australia, having been taken over mid-year in Sydney, Melbourne and Bendigo. The company’s 2012 show, Terrain, will also have a 10th anniversary tour of Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane.

Page had Rings’ elevation in mind when she was named the company’s artistic partner in 2018, though Rings herself says she never assumed the estate was a given. The transfer “just feels right,” says Page.

Rings joined Bangarra as a performer in 1993, two years after Page took over the management of the company. The couple had formed together as dancers in Sydney, their taste for incorporating cultural and political messages into their respective works sowed in part by Indigenous protests surrounding Australia’s bicentennial in 1988.

François rings
Rings joined Bangarra as a performer in 1993. Photography: Bangarra Dance Theater

“We’re all from this college, we’re all connecting, Fran and I are like a brother and sister,” Page said in a previous interview with Guardian Australia, when the couple co-choreographed SandSong. “Fran is much more disciplined in his structure than I am.”

Rings now laughs gratefully at Page’s comparison of their styles. “Over the years we have come to… reconcile and celebrate our differences. He was my first mentor and really supported my journey as a creator and choreographer, even before I saw it in me.

Page says Rings has become a member of his family: “We’ve been there for each other, to cry and cry, to be with and to share.” He lost his younger brother, the charismatic Bangarra dancer Russell Page, to suicide in 2002, at the age of 34, then five years ago suffered the death of David, his brother outgoing musician and comedian, the family refusing to name the cause.

“After David died, my God, I wasn’t the same for, like, three years… The only thing that kept me going was the fact that I had a resource like [this job], it allowed me to stumble and fall and cry, ”Page says.

“Fran was there for that. She must have watched from a distance, and it really upset her, to see me fall and get up and be in denial.

Françoise Rings.
Rings says Page was his “first mentor”. Photograph: Carly Earl / The Guardian

Bangarra chief designer Jacob Nash notes Page’s choreographic shift over the years from abstraction to narrative, highlighting important Indigenous historical figures including Patygerang in 2014 and Bennelong in 2017.

The latter is widely regarded as one of Page’s finest works, striking an indelible image as Beau Dean Riley Smith – playing the Indigenous warrior – is locked up on stage by the British colonizers who kidnapped him and then went on to him. shown in London. Bennelong was Bangarra’s first full production after David’s death.

“David’s passing focused all of our thoughts on what we do as artists,” Nash said.

“One of David’s legacies is also this show. You look at Wudjang, this is the next step. What is this form of storytelling? It’s ceremony, it’s not opera. It’s that scale, it’s big, and it belongs to us as Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.

Nash says Stephen Page has been “fearless”, embracing stories that need to be told, creating “magic” by “believing in the moment that is” and giving space to the founders of the company, thus creating leaders in the process.

“His generation, when you look at the mid 80’s to 90’s meeting in Sydney, he took the opportunity and created this amazing company that is able to cross borders and share the most important messages around everything. what we need to do in this country, political and social.

“He always talks about art like medicine… He will never be a politician, but there is always politics in art.”

Former Sydney Festival Director Wesley Enoch – the first Indigenous Australian appointed to this post – said: “What Stephen Page did in Bangarra opened almost every door for us to get through easily. You wouldn’t have my career, or maybe even Wayne Blair’s career.

Stephen opened everyone’s imagination to the possibility of an Indigenous voice that was not a museum culture, that was alive and vibrant, and he was able to help non-Indigenous Australia take an imaginative leap to see that.”

Bangarra dancers perform a story inspired by the sacred call of the dugong
Bangarra dancers perform a story inspired by the sacred call of the dugong during Ones Country in 2017. Photography: Daniel Boud

Beyond Bangarra, Page, now a grandfather, would love to do film and television with his son, actor Hunter Page-Lochard, who starred alongside Aaron Pedersen and members of Bangarra in the first one. Page’s feature film in 2015, Spear.

“Hunter is waiting for me to come out of that door, he’s already kidnapped me and he’s got a production company he set up for me to fall into.”

What will Page’s role be there? “I’ll just help whatever he wants.” So he will be my boss.

“It’s funny, we wrote a lot of projects together, we submitted some movie ideas. The agencies have already called me, I don’t know how it is [news of his Bangarra departure] got out. I’ve never had an agent in my life …

“In fact, I’m petrified, thinking, who’s going to employ a 56-year-old man these days?” “


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