Saturday, August 25, 2012

David Page Talks- at Canberra Theatre Centre

David Page Talks- at Canberra Theatre Centre in the series Take Part: Artist Talk, August 25, 2012, 12:30pm

by Frank McKone

Bangarra Dance Theatre are touring their new work, Terrain – the timeless wonder and spiritual resonance of Lake Eyre to Canberra Theatre, September 13-15, with a pre-show forum at 6:30pm on the 13th.

Artistic director Stephen Page commissioned Frances Rings to choreograph work representing her mother’s country where Lake Eyre, Kati Thanda, has a powerful story of a giant kangaroo being hunted and injured in the area to the south around Maree, where Frances was brought up by her mother and German father.  The kangaroo escaped the hunters but died and turned to salt where the lake is now.

Canberra Theatre Centre are to be congratulated for establishing a new tradition, Take Part: Artist Talk.   In July, Scott Rankin talked about Ngapartji Ngapartji one, Trevor Jamieson’s Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara story.  Today Stephen Page’s elder brother, David, in keeping with his tradition, gave a talk in the form of a story – of the formation and growth of Bangarra and his role as composer.

When I went to a talk and demonstration of dance given by Yolgnu man Wandjuk Marika and a young nephew in Melbourne back in the late 1970s, it was difficult to believe that Marika’s desire to bring his culture to the non-Indigenous world would succeed.  He explained then why his nephew was so nervous when asked to dance stories when Marika had been given a hard time by other elders who wanted to keep their culture inviolate. He was a brave young man indeed. And, of course, how could people from the mainstream commercial culture ever learn to appreciate Aboriginal culture, so different from their own, especially concerning our relationship to the land?  But Marika was determined to try because, as he said that day, Aboriginal culture will die unless it is taken out to the rest of the world.

I thought of all this as David Page spoke, not just of the tradition that it is the land that owns us, not we who own and can buy and sell the land, but because the Marika family had been an important part of Stephen Page’s learning traditional dance when he first went from Sydney's National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association (NAISDA) to Arnhem Land early in the 1980s.

In Bangarra, Wandjuk Marika’s hope has been fulfilled.  The Page family boys, as David explained, came to fill the traditional roles, despite their urban childhood in Mt Gravatt in Brisbane, of storyteller – Stephen, the choreographer; dancer – Russell; and song man – David himself, Bangarra’s resident composer.  Founded in 1989 by Carole Johnson, founding director of NAISDA, Bangarra has achieved what Marika desired – keeping the integrity of their traditional culture while creating connections between those stories, with the proper permissions from the owners of those stories, with the feelings and ideas of people beyond traditional boundaries through the mediums of dance and music.

To see how what we like to call ‘modern dance’ and the styles that are true to the ancient Australian heritage, can creatively become one, and to do the same with musical expression, is to appreciate that the work of Stephen and David Page is unique.  And David even began to talk today of retirement!  Never, I hope – or at least there must be a new Bangarra, a continuing ‘making of fire’, long into the future.

Frances Rings, among others encouraged to take on this responsibility by today’s elders, will surely continue to make Aboriginal – and everybody else’s – culture live on.