Bangarra Dance Company celebrates its 30th anniversary

Thirty years ago the young Stephen Page took a break from his job as a dancer at the Sydney Dance Company to direct the 1989 end-of-year show for NAISDA.*

The hit of the production, called Kayn Walu, was Dusk, described by a Canberra Times reporter as “a very exciting new work created by Stephen Page”.

At the time one of the NAISDA students was Fiona Wirrer-George Oochunyung, who, many years later wrote her memoir, titled Double Native.

She recalled how in 1989, the students admired Page for all that he had achieved as a dancer and choreographer.

She also remembered Page’s frustration as he created Dusk and how he planned to abandon the work.

“I immediately thought, no way, absolutely not…somehow myself and another student convinced him to hang in there, arguing that if there was ever such a time for a piece like this to make an entrance it was then.

“That year a fresh new breed of Indigenous choreographers and dancers were beginning to emerge, experiment and break new ground.

“Dusk became the highlight of the end-of-year performance. I tasted the power and spirit of Aboriginal Australia every time I danced that piece”.

The work was filmed in a studio at the Sydney Opera House where she danced in Dusk alongside Gary Lang, Russell Page, Lewis Lampton and Bernadette Walong.

The film was part of the Blackout series produced by the ABC-TV Aboriginal Programs Unit from 1989 to 1994.

Two years after Dusk Page premiered Page became the artistic director of Bangarra Dance Theatre and has remained at the helm ever since.

This year, to celebrate Bangarra 30th anniversary, the company will tour Australia performing three major productions, among them Frances Rings’ Unaipon (Clan 2004) based on the journey of David Unaipon (1872-1967) from the shores of Lake Alexandrina within the Ngarrindjeri nation to his place on the Australian fifty-dollar note.

Unaipon is described as “a rich dance portrait of the man who made the connection between aerodynamics and the flight pattern of the boomerang, and between his own cultural traditions and those of all men”.

Bangarra’s triple bill also includes a collection of dance stories from the company’s 30-year history curated by Page and Jacob Nash, Bangarra’s Head of Design.

The third work is the most surprising, and perhaps the most intriguing as, for the first time, Bangarra will present the work of an international guest artist.

It’s Stamping Ground, choreographed for the Nederlands Dans Theater by Jiri Kylián, when he was artistic director of NDT based at The Hague.

Stamping Ground premiered in February 1983 with a cast of six and was danced to a percussive score composed by Carlos Chávez, in 1942.

The work was inspired by Kylián’s visit in 1980 to Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria, North East Arnhem Land, where he watched a gathering of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes.

Page said he first heard of Kylián’s work in 1984 -1985 when he was studying at NAISDA pre-Bangarra.

At the time he knew that “something like this had never happened before.

“The choreography will be challenging, as our dancers will need to bring their own spirit to the story and connect with Jiri’s vision and impressions”.

Kylián’s work was last performed in Australia by Nederlands Dans Theater in 1986 but is remembered in a number of film clips and a documentary – Road to the Stamping Ground.

The 30th anniversary triple bill will premiere at the Sydney Opera House, (13 June –13 July).

The company will then tour to Canberra, Perth, Darwin, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Hobart.

Kylián has travelled to Australia many times in the past but he now avoids flying so it’s unlikely he will be here this year.

* The National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association Dance College

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