Stephen PageBangarra is known as Australia’s foremost Indigenous dance theatre company. But it is so much more – it breathes, lives and brings forth a spirit of this land and people unlike any other. Australian Stage’s Dione Joseph talks to Artistic Director Stephen Page.

More than twenty years have passed since Bangarra was founded and after a very successful start to the new decade with Of Earth and Sky Artistic Director Stephen Page is looking forward to sharing his own work ID with Elma Kris’ About in the season’s latest double bill: Belong.

Social and political questions pulse at the epicentre of Bangarra’s stories but they do so with an aesthetic that refuses to be polemical. Identity continues to be a pertinent and deeply personal topic and Stephen Page openly addresses the issues in the company’s 2011 season:

“We honour our traditional customs and heritages yet we live in the 21st century. Who are the indigenous contemporary people of Australia? Where do we belong? We have gone full circle in the last 200 years of history from being ‘too black’ to being now ‘too white’ and it is still the same song: ‘Will the real Aborigine please stand up?'”

Exploring many of his own dancers' histories and stories, as well as his own, Page has created  a series of vignettes, “backyard stories that explore the journey of young dancers – many who often arrive at Bangarra from nationally recognized urban dance institutions and find that the next step for them, both personally and professionally, is to commit to their profession by rekindling a connection to people and country.”

If ID explores the tangible realities of Aboriginality in our world then Elma Kris (notable dancer with Bangarra with her own choreographic debut Emeret Lu in True Stories 2007) offers a voice for Torres Strait islanders. “Elma’s inspirations have been a pocket of mythical and traditional stories”, says Page. “Recognizing what Bangarra has to offer in a contemporary stylistic way while maintaining integrity – she has taken the responsibility to be the caretaker of the cultural stories.”

Both ID and About are two complements to a larger whole: a story that investigates from a psychological perspective “why we’re proud of what we do and who we are – and why it is important  to answer those questions.”

Storytelling in dance theatre is a specific niche in a very large and competitive ecosystem but Bangarra has a history of not only sharing story but also nurturing talent and creating the opportunity to expand the vision of a company that honours the past and embraces the future. With four artist in residency positions including David Page (Composer), Emma Howell (Costume design), Jacob Nash (Set Design) and Matt Cox (Lighting Design), the company continues to expand the opportunity to provide a forum for Indigenous artists to develop and articulate their creative artistic expressions.

“I have enjoyed the privilege of mentoring and nurturing” says Page, “I feel now that I’m in many senses a big brother and I’m proud of what is being made because it continues, more than anything else, the spirit of our stories.”

The spirit of Bangarra, one that harkens back to a history of this land more than 40,000 years old, continues to explore stories of Indigenous peoples and does so through contemporary and innovative expressions. Physical, emotional, poetic and spiritual truths have resounded through dance and story for Australian audiences for the past 20 years - with Belong we can anticipate another profound exploration.

Belong is touring nationally from July 2011. Further details»

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