Bangarra: 30 years of sixty five thousand

Stephen Page on to make fire: Bangarra: 30 years of sixty five thousand

... we’re all born from that spirit of 65,000 years and this will take us into the next 30 years.

Stephen Page and Bangarra’s creative team have produced three worlds within to make fire as a gift back to the culture and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, that has survived for 65,000 years.

You talk about Bangarra having a ‘pantry of knowledge’, an array of stories that demonstrate the complexity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history. How did you decide on which works to choose to create to make fire?

I didn’t want to make a variety show or a ‘best of’ as part of this program, but I did want to find a way to celebrate how Bangarra responds to historical works, biographical works and what that means in our repertoire, and also to celebrate and pay respect to the Torres Strait Islander cultures. So that’s why we’ve created three worlds that are held together by the cloth from Patyegarang (2014), which represents the spirit of our creative stories and cultural knowledge coming together.

The first world, Mathinna, was created in 2008 and is the story of one of Australia’s first stolen children. Mathinna is one of Bangarra’s narrative works about historical figures, like Unaipon (2004), Patyegarang and Bennelong (2017), which are all works about reclaiming our history and telling our stories from our perspective.

Bradley Smith performing 'Mutton Bird' from 'Mathinna' in 'to make fire', The 'Patyegarang' cloth is featured, Choreography Stephen Page, Photography Daniel Boud, 2019

The second world, About, pays homage to the stories that have been inspired by Torres Strait Islander culture. Elma KrisAbout (2011) explores the mood of the four winds in the Torres Strait and is a perfect example of Bangarra’s exploration of customs passed down through families for generations, reflecting the strong links between communities and their natural environment.

Ryan Pearson, Rikki Mason, Beau Dean Riley Smith, Tyrel Dulvare and Baden Hitchcock performing 'Kuki' from 'About' in 'to make fire', Choreography Stephen Page, Photography Lisa Tomasetti , 2019

The last world, Clan, is about the hope, spirit and continuation of knowledge that we share — that we’re all born from that spirit of 65,000 years and this will take us into the next 30 years. Excerpts of ID from Belong (2011) and Rush from Walkabout (2002) will come together to celebrate the Clan journey.

Bangarra ensemble in 'Hope' from 'Rush' in 'to make fire', Screen shot, 2019

How have Bangarra’s creative team used their respective crafts to tie these worlds together?

I worked closely with Jake Nash (sets), Nick Schlieper (lighting), Jennifer Irwin (costumes) and Steve Francis (music) on the creation of to make fire. Nick has totally reimagined the lighting design. Jake’s epic Patyegarang cloth will stay with us for the entire piece, anchoring each world. The elements of dust and wind will introduce us into each new section, and those familiar with our works will notice key design elements inspired by previous productions — think of the ring from Bennelong or the firesticks from Patyegarang. Jenny and our remarkable costume department, headed by Monica Smith, have helped to refit and remake costumes for the entire program, and have created the look for a clan of nine people, a mob, who travel together and collect each story and reawaken it. The spirit of culture. The spirit of knowledge. And Steve has been weaving his magic in the studio to find a thread between scores that were created by my brother David and himself, so that they become a seamless journey of one spirit.