Posts Tagged ‘stephen page





QPAC & Bangarra Dance Theatre

QPAC Playhouse

August 15–23 2014


Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway




“The more time I spent contemplating Patyegarang, her courageousness and generosity of spirit, the deeper the importance I felt for Bangarra to awaken her spirit at this time and share this distinctive story from her perspective as an Eora woman.”

Stephen Page


In Bangarra Dance Theatre’s latest work, Patyegarang, choreographer and Artistic Director Stephen Page honours the Eora people of the Sydney area, and commemorates their experience of early contact with European settlers. Bangarra’s headquarters is on Eora land.


Patyegarang explores the story of the relationship between a young Eora woman of that name, and Lieutenant William Dawes, an English officer who arrived in Australia in 1788.




While the story and its context are presented in an impressionistic style in 14 short sections, the threads and themes are clear — a tribute to the significant contribution by dramaturg Alana Valentine, acknowledged by Stephen Page.


We see the special status that Patyegarang has among her people, the Eora women’s daily tasks of fishing and food gathering, the people’s use of boats, and the preparation for the hunt.


Patyegarang meets Dawes, who is trying to understand his unfamiliar surroundings, and she explains and names different elements, including constellations in the night sky. This is subtly done: Patyegarang focuses her attention and movement on the different elements and Dawes observes, follows and joins her.



In other sections of the work, we see the despairing Eora people in drab European clothing, suffering from illness, and men being shot by European soldiers. In one scene, Dawes wipes white ochre dust off a young man, and Patyegarang cleans black body paint off a young woman — both revealing the same colour skin underneath in a message affirming a common humanity.


The interactions between Patyegarang (Jasmin Sheppard) and Dawes (guest dancer Thomas Greenfield) are tender and full of goodwill, except at the end where they confront the fact that they belong to opposing worlds. They part with sadness, but the work finishes with an affirmation of the Eora people’s connection with the land, and a re-honouring of Patyegarang.


Sheppard is a gentle Patyegarang, while also conveying the character’s power and courage as a “chosen messenger” of her people. Her movements are rounded, and she skims her feet over the floor as she walks, as if feeling the earth. Greenfield, too, while a tall and commanding presence, has a gentle quality as well as great strength.


Waangenga Blanco and Elma Kris as Eora leaders or elders added another dimension of spiritual power and authority to the cast. Blanco, leading the men in dance, was very strong and intense, in perfect command of the grounded traditional movement, with body upright, knees bent and legs swivelling.


Kris’s trance-like entrance near the beginning and end of the work, bent over with a smoking wooden coolamon on her back, brings spiritual support and guidance. She leads the women as they gather around Patyegarang, carrying leafy branches and coolamons issuing resin-scented smoke.


Smoke, ochre, dust, and body paint are just some elements of the immersive sensory experience of this work. Composer David Page, and the designers — Jacob Nash (set), Jennifer Irwin (costumes) and Nick Schlieper (lighting) — have created another world.


The set recreates a towering sandstone cliff, with the lighting changing its colour and the depth of its shadows as it moves from the rose of dawn to daylight, and to night. In the depiction of their traditional lives, the women wear beautiful costumes: ruched and tucked earth-coloured dresses with string backs; skirts like woven string nets in various colours, inverted over the head to resemble woven fish traps; and pleated shimmery black and silver skirts and scarf tops in a night scene.



Singing, chanting, and instrumental music are mixed with bird calls and other sounds of the natural world in the musical soundtrack. We also hear Darug, the traditional language of the Eora people, as if spoken by Patyegarang. This is a poignant connection: as pointed out in the program notes, the rediscovered record of her language in Dawes’s notebooks was a gift of cultural knowledge back to her people 200 years later.


Stephen Page’s intention of honouring the Eora people is more than realised in this beautiful, absorbing and inspiring work that invokes the spirit of Patyegarang. What ultimately happened to her is unknown, but part of her story has been brought back to life.



“May the resonance of her potent story open our hearts and inspire our minds to imagine a collaborative, future Australia.”

Stephen Page





Bangarra’s BLAK is coming…




Cutting-edge creative collaborations emerge



Bangarra Dance Theatre is back at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) from 18 to 27 July with their brand new emotionally powerful and physically dynamic production Blak.


Following on from its World Premiere season at Arts Centre Melbourne and seasons in Wollongong, Sydney and Canberra,Blak will arrive on the Playhouse stage, QPAC exploding with stories about a contemporary clan and the collision of two worlds.


In Blak, Bangarra’s acclaimed Artistic Director Stephen Page and dancer/choreographer Daniel Riley McKinley peel back the layers, crossing the worlds of old and new, exposing our universal yearning for spiritual connection.


For the first time, Bangarra’s artist in residence and music composer David Page will collaborate with Paul Mac on the exciting soundscape for Blak. A songwriter, musician and producer, the multi-ARIA award winning Paul Mac is one of thecountry’s leading figures in electronic music.


“I have had such an incredible experience working with this crew. Being able to experiment with sonics, rhythms, and arrangements out of the straightjacket of pop music has been completely liberating.


“Watching the dancers bring the music to life through Daniel Riley McKinley and Stephen Page’s choreography has taught me so much about dance. I have never written for a contemporary dance company before, so I jumped at the chance to collaborate and co-write the music for Blak with David Page,” said Mac.



Fourteen dancers will be featured in Blak, including Bangarra’s two newest company members, Queenslander Nicola Sabatino and Beau Dean Riley Smith, along with guest artist Hunter Page-Lochard.


The son of Stephen Page, Hunter is one of Australia’s young talents to watch, having appeared in previous Bangarra productions, last year’s acclaimed Sydney Theatre Company production Bloodland and numerous films including the worldwide hit The Sapphires.


Drawn from the artists’ urban perspectives, Blak tells the stories of contemporary Indigenous Australia in a work of dance theatre that is physical and edgy. Jacob Nash’s sensational set designs, Luke Ede’s costumes and Matt Cox’s lighting will combine to bring further depth and mood to Bangarra’s evocative theatrical journey.


Under the leadership of Artistic Director Stephen Page, Bangarra Dance Theatre is acclaimed for its performances throughout Australia and internationally most recently in New York, Mongolia and Vietnam.


Named NSW Australian of the Year in 2008 and NAIDOC Artist of the Year in 2012, Stephen Page has long been recognised for his phenomenal ability to create milestone productions in the Australian cultural cannon. Continuing his commitment to the next generation of story-tellers, Page has commissioned Bangarra dancer Daniel Riley McKinley to create his second choreographic work for the 2013 production Blak.


Bangarra BLAK

Bangarra Dance Theatre is Australia’s premier national Indigenous performing arts company.


The company has strived to maintain the cultural integrity and spirit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tradition, combining it with contemporary stories, dance and music. Bangarra creates dynamic, moving theatrical experiences and delivers these experiences to audiences across Australia and around the world.


Book online for BLAK








Bangarra Dance Theatre

QPAC Playhouse

3rd – 7th October 2012

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

The Aboriginal inhabitants of this continent practised sustainable natural resource management for thousands of generations. Their culture, beliefs and natural resource management practices were inextricably interwoven to ensure sustainability and to provide a lasting legacy.

Contemporary Australians are only beginning to understand this strange, un-European land their forebears came to. The management practices brought to this antipodean land have in many cases proven less than ideal and in some cases, simply disastrous.



This is not a show that everyone will immediately understand in a cerebral manner.

The understanding goes deeper. It must.


At each Bangarra opening night I sense a fierce pride permeating the foyer. I love it. Nowhere else in Brisbane is there such determined, joyful purpose in going to the theatre.

Internationally acclaimed Bangarra Dance Theatre continues to forge ahead in contemporary dance, effortlessly raising the bar and begging the question, “What next?” This is the Bangarra I love. Some of our country’s best dancers doing what they do best; superb, sensorial work of a consistently high standard and extraordinarily Australian in all its elements.

Terrain, which is Choreographer Francis Rings’ first full-length piece, commissioned by Bangarra Artistic Director, Stephen Page, lets us watch in wonder, the changing landscapes of one of the world’s largest internally draining systems, Kati Thanda (Lake Eyre Basin). Covering an area of 1.2 million square kilometres – that’s almost one sixth of the continent – Kati Thanda is the fifth largest terminal lake in the world. Recently, the Arabunna people were granted native title rights and sole custody of the lake and its surrounding lands but their origins have made them the custodians of the area for centuries. Terrain is a 65-minute story of individual and collective strength; it’s about identity, sustainability, power, pride, life, death and rebirth. Phew!

In nine fragments, we see moments of change and years of survival. Shields reminds us that the struggle for land rights and recognition ain’t over yet. Salt and Scar juxtapose sharp, jarring movement against deliciously fluid (oily evil) man-made moves. The seduction of commerce. The promise of wealth from those who would exploit our natural resources. The unwillingness of the people to let go of place. Or pride. Or identity. Or story.

Jacob Nash draws on the “subconscious of the country”; life below the surface of the lake, its lines, colours, textures and patterns. His multiple painted backdrops, revealed one after another in perfectly construed succession within an immense, stark space remind me of the basic lessons in line and pattern brought to vibrant life in primary school classrooms, inspired by Wendy Allen’s classic Running On Rainbows, a teacher’s gift from the visual art gods. There is a sense of Peter Elfe’s imagery in these backdrops too (though, in the Teachers Resources, the work of Murray Frederiks is referenced for good reason); the ever-changing, evolving environment at odds with our modern, urban, seemingly unstoppable need to acquire and develop. The sheer size and dramatic beauty of these pieces mean that Nash could quite reasonably put a price on each and check in with collectors of Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s work. The same can be said of Jennifer Irwin’s textural, functional, wearable art. Her structural, earthen cum outer space mineral and creature costumes are runway worthy and perfectly imagined to suit the individual and collaborative shapes of this piece; living, breathing, intertwined organisms created by the company of dancers moving across the stage as one in unmistakable Bangarra style. After twenty years designing for Bangarra, Irwin’s specialty is clearly her ability to create second skins. Karen Norris, in a bid to create lighting that sculpts “the bodies like the land, with subtle light in little to no colours” has achieved a special outback ambience that is continuously quietly changing, “enhancing, sculpting and helping the audience to follow the story.”

David Page has composed a score to evoke the “heritage, mystery, threat and natural beauty” of the lake. It’s simultaneously classical and contemporary and a little bit magical, as if there were water sprites and desert fairies peeking over Page’s shoulder at the time in a bid to keep him honest. The use of spoken voice in Shields perfectly unsettles us.

As we live through the transition of the lake, from scorching, wind-swept desert to a vast inland sea thriving with life and renewed, inspired strength, we see the connection the Arabunna people have with their land. We see the connection the Aboriginal people have with this great southern land. Some of us might even feel that strongly, a similar sense of place and belonging. For those who do not, the collective skill and the organic, sensual beauty of these dancers, caught within the work of art that is Bangarra’s newest production, might stir something in you yet. Be quick, Terrain closes on Sunday.



From Bangarra to Ballet – we farewell Ella Havelka with her last performance on

Sunday October 7, QPAC Brisbane.

Having performed in 2012 at Lincoln Centre, New York, in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, across 6 major Australian cities, and in remote towns such as Maree, South Australia, leading young Indigenous dancer Ella Havelka will perform for the final time with Bangarra in the closing night of the Brisbane season of TERRAIN following her acceptance of an invitation from The Australian Ballet to join the company.

The invitation is a homecoming of sorts for Ella, who trained with the Australian Ballet School, graduating in 2007 after touring with the dancers company. Now after 4 years with Bangarra Ella continues her journey of fulfilling her long held dream of being a ballerina.

Ella commences her contract with The Australian Ballet immediately becoming the first ever Aboriginal dancer in the company’s history. Bangarra’s long association with The Australian Ballet began in 1999 with Stephen Pages’ acclaimed Rites. During 2012, as part of the Australian Ballet’s 50th Anniversary celebrations Stephen Page created Waramuk-in the dark night bringing both companies’ dancers together to perform at Lincoln Centre, New York.

Ella, a descendant of the Wiradjuri people, has had a remarkable journey with Bangarra growing as an artist, connecting to her culture, and performing across Australia and the world. Receiving a Dance scholarship

as a part of the Rio Tinto Aboriginal Fund Professional and Educational Development Program, Ella made her first appearance in Fire – A Retrospective in 2009 and was nominated as ‘Dancer to Watch’ in the Dance

Australia Critics Survey 2 years running. Since then she has performed in Stephen Page’s Mathinna nationally and regionally, in Bangarra’s of earth & sky, toured Europe with Spirit, performed nationally in the acclaimed

Belong and through teaching Bangarra’s workshops across regional and remote locations has helped many Aboriginal children to connect with their culture.

Bangarra’s Artistic Director Stephen Page said “Ella is one of this country’s greatest young talents and as she continues her journey as an Aboriginal woman and an Australian dance artist we wish her every success.

With her exceptional technique, strength and agility, her natural warmth and ability to connect with the audience we know she will thrive with the Australian Ballet when she trades knee-pads for pointe shoes!”

Ella’s final performance with Bangarra will be in TERRAIN this Sunday 7 October at QPAC in Brisbane. Described as a hymn to country, TERRAIN transports us to Lake Eyre the place of Australia’s inland sea: one of the few untouched natural waterways in the world. Bangarra explores the relationship of Indigenous people to country and how landscape becomes a second skin.


Bloodland or Dear Australian Theatre Industry, Be Careful What You Wish For


Bangarra Dance Theatre with Sydney Theatre Company  & Adelaide Festival Production

QPAC Playhouse 

14th – 18th March  


Wayne Blair, Writer.


When Cate and Andrew ask for a product, you give it. They asked for a show about indigenous issues and here it is. Are you ready for that? I wasn’t. I thought I was seeing a dance production, which may or may not have alluded to land rights, tribal war and racism in this country. But this is the new Bangarra Theatre. This is Bangarra with less of the dance and more of the issues. This is, without doubt, what the future of indigenous theatre looks like. It’s a rich mix of (some) dance, song and theatre, which lets us in, though some of us are welcomed just as far as the door, on the traditional lore and the urban reality of our indigenous people. In case we’re still in denial about any of those issues.

Tomorrow's Dreaming by Jandamarra Cadd


Larissa Behrendt, Professor of Law.

Larissa Behrendt, Chair of Bangarra, explains, “The medium of theatre adds a different dimension to Stephen’s storytelling craft with extra layering of language, ceremony and silence.” The Stephen she refers to is, of course, Bangarra Artistic Director and choreographer, Stephen Page, who, along with writer, Wayne Blair, hails from Brisbane. Their lively characters, who live “between two worlds, with one foot in each”, and have come into existence through the collaboration of Page, Blair and cultural mentors, Kathy Balnganyngu and Djakapurra Munyarryun, share the stories of North-East Arnhem Land’s original inhabitants, the Yolgnu. They are familiar stories and very funny scenarios to many in the opening night audience.

The language is the thing. Wesley Enoch explains that the Yolgnu language has “very limited use of adjectives…very complex metaphors…it’s like heightened poetry.” With a smattering of Pidgin English thrown in for good measure and more (traditional) song than dance incorporated (more dance again next time, in Terrain), we can follow most of the story. But I feel…marginalised. Yep. I feel like I’m missing out, like I don’t get the punch line; I feel like I’ve walked into somebody else’s party and I don’t know where the kitchen is. And what the hell is that everybody’s drinking?! You know what? I bet I feel the same way a Yolgnu woman might feel in the audience of any one of the RSC’s productions, which have recently come under fire again for being old-fashioned and elitist, among other things (and juxtaposed, quite rightly, against La Boite’s AYLI, by commentator, Stephen Collins, who has probably seen more than the West End Whingers have, only he doesn’t have a blog)! Watching Bloodland, I feel, quite probably, the way an Eora descendent might feel during a performance of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll at Belvoir St or perhaps how a local Gubbi Gubbi woman might feel when she comes to see David Williamson’s Travelling North at Noosa Arts in April. Yikes. The tide has turned.

Aboriginal clans divided by the outside interests of the mining corporations, who’ll pay whoever can prove to a Tribunal, their undisputed ownership of the land. Beneath that layer is another, of the Southern Star-crossed lovers and another, of the comedy of modern technology and deeper down again, the inconceivable tragedy, which we might have felt angrier or sorrier about had we seen more of the love story. Reality bites down hard in our indigenous communities, refuses to loosen its grip and shakes its bone angrily, like a mongrel dog (one of the highlights of the show is David Page as the mongrel)! But loss is loss. And though some of us may wail louder and longer than others, we each feel to some degree, the heavy, heavy impact of trans-generational hate and its myriad consequences.

Because the characters of Bloodland are drawn so clearly, because the key moments are not left to the language alone, because the soundscape is so haunting – stillness in the silence and otherwise, birdsong and an undercurrent of incessantly buzzing flies and heat rising from the earth (think of the languidness of Picnic at Hanging Rock before the ascent and then go listen to Camille to hear the one note sustained for the length of an album) – and because we might as well be experiencing the whole thing in GOMA (how about a MONA season too while we’re finding new audiences?) we get that these are essentially not Anglo, not Aboriginal, but human stories, crossing race, culture, custom, creed. I don’t think that’s what we are meant to get  (I think the stories are seen as belonging to the Yolgnu and it feels almost blasphemous to claim them, or even to recognise them) but that’s what we get. And I wanted to get that more.

Bloodland is a landmark production. It blurs the lines, both in form and content, between what contemporary, indigenous and “traditional” or “conventional” storytelling within a theatrical context can be. It throws dancers, actors and storytellers together into the same big pot on the fire and stirs occasionally, letting the contents bubble away until thick, rich broth reaches the top of the pot and boils over, streaming down the sides and sizzling as it hits hot coals beneath.

By all means, continue to claim the stories! Your stories. We acknowledge, respect and value your stories, your connection to the land, your ceremonies and your culture that might seem strange sometimes, to some of us. We desperately want to know more, hear more, feel more (it’s too easy to be dispassionate about issues from which we feel disconnected).

Gilbert by Jandamarra Cadd

The personal is political, remember?

Why not make it more personal for more of us? My fear is that a devoted non-indigenous audience might slowly wean themselves off this exciting new theatrical form. Share the story with us or don’t. Let us in on the joke or don’t. Once you’ve decided which it is, we can go with you on your journey (or not), feel empathy for your characters and be moved and inspired to find out more about those issues you, rightly, feel so strongly about. Or not. And that’s the magic of theatre, past, present and future. I do like to see as many people as possible, being offered the opportunity to experience the magic of theatre.

Bloodland is a Jandamarra Cadd canvas: “the spirit of reconciliation” evident in its creative process but ultimately, the eyes, revealing eons of despair, give the impression that the lines in the sand, between clans and between colours, are still deeply, irrevocably marked.

If this is what the future of indigenous theatre looks like, we have a whole new world, complete with many of the same old issues turned directly on their heads, to sort through next. Well, BRING IT.

Working Progress by Jandamarra Cadd

The images and stories of make the story a bit more personal. If you haven’t found them already, by clicking on the links within the text, take a look and listen now.


bloodland opens next thursday


Queensland Theatre Company and Queensland Performing Arts Centre present



Concept by Stephen Page

Story by Kathy Balngayngu Marika, Stephen Page and Wayne Blair

Written by Wayne Blair

A Sydney Theatre Company and Adelaide Festival production in association with Bangarra Dance Theatre 

A partnership between Queensland’s premium performing arts centre and state theatre company will bring a significant new Australian work by high profile Queenslander Stephen Page to Brisbane this March.

Bloodland is a Sydney Theatre Company production created by Stephen Page, Artistic Director of Bangarra Dance Theatre and award-winning choreographer, in collaboration with writer, director and actor Wayne Blair and Bangarra artist-in-residence and cultural consultant, KathyBalngayngu Marika.

Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) Chief Executive John Kotzas said that Bloodland is the first production to be presented as part of a three year commitment between QPAC and Queensland Theatre Company (QTC) towards the development and presentation of Indigenous work.

“We are proud to present this culturally significant and unique performance piece which follows a successful première season in Sydney.”

QTC Artistic Director Wesley Enoch said that Bloodland is one of the most complex cultural projects created in recent time, conceived by the cream of Indigenous theatre making talent.

“It is a landmark production and part of our partnership with QPAC to build significant Indigenous works and a long term strategy to expand the current scope of audiences, artists and producers,” he said.

The work vividly dramatises a bitter tug-of-war taking place in a community which, despite being wracked by pain and division, divided by moiety, nevertheless hums with hope.

From three photographs that formed the seed of an idea, Stephen and Wayne developed this original work for over a year, collaborating with local storytellers in Arnhem Land.

A groundbreaking piece of theatre, Bloodland examines the classic theme of forbidden love, while also exploring issues of black-on-black conflict, and the challenges of observing traditional lore in a community permeated by Western culture.

Featuring an Indigenous cast of twelve including established urban actors as well as traditional Yolngu storytellers; the production fuses traditional languages and Pidgin English as well as dance and song to tell the story.

“The language of this production is not restricted to the verbal, Bloodland incorporates spiritual and physical languages, ceremonial traditional dances and mimicry of modern western culture, filtered through aboriginal tradition,” Stephen Page said.

Director: Stephen Page. Set Designer: Peter England. Costume Designer: Jennifer Irwin.

Lighting Designer: Damien Cooper. Composer/Sound Designer: Steve Francis


Kathy Balngayngu Marika, Elaine Crombie, Rarriwuy Hicks, Banula Marika, Noelene Marika, David Page, Hunter Page Lochard, Kelton Pell, Tessa Rose, Meyne Wyatt and Ursula Yovich.

Queensland Theatre Company and Queensland Performing Arts Centre present a Sydney Theatre Company and Adelaide Festival production in association with Bangarra Dance Theatre


When: 14-18 March (5 performances only)

Where: Playhouse QPAC Cultural Centre, South Bank

Tickets: From $42 to $79, Youth $33

Booking: or call 136 246

Warning: Mild Violence

*Ticket price includes GST and Booking Fee. Please note transaction fees will apply