I joke with Stephen that I’ll just keep doing it until they stop asking me — why wouldn’t you?
For more than 20 years, Steve Francis has been writing, producing and mixing music for Bangarra. His connection to the company led to a deep friendship with former Music Director David Page, who invited Steve to help create Bangarra’s unique music style.
What process do you take to get Bangarra: 30 years of sixty five thousand to opening night?
I’m helping Stephen to curate to make fire, picking moments from the entire history of Bangarra. Stephen, very specifically, doesn’t want it to feel like a ‘best of’, so we’re creating three new worlds. He’s picked the music and I’m trying to massage them together into one piece while still honouring the original scores. This genre of music was created by David Page, so there’s a certain style. Interestingly there’s not much repetition in what we’ve done over the years, but there’s a certain thread that is helpful when combining music from different productions.
On a personal level, my most exciting job is to work on a Bangarra production.
How do you think the company’s changed since David Page asked you to mix Alchemy, Bangarra’s collaboration with The Australian Ballet in 1996?
It was tiny back then. The office was three people and there weren’t as many dancers. It was on a bit of a shoestring. I feel like creatively it’s become more ambitious, but I think that’s because everyone in the company has matured and Stephen wants to challenge the standard. We can now do major works like Bennelong. We probably couldn’t have done a Bennelong ten years ago.
Do you think the core is still the same?
Absolutely. On a personal level, my most exciting job is to work on a Bangarra production. For a composer, there’s a lot of pressure. But it’s so liberating because you’re a part of the core creation process in writing the music. When you do a piece with Bangarra, from the get-go you are a part of telling that story through the music. They’re my proudest moments.
The stories are incredibly rich and they are important stories to tell. But with that comes responsibility. It’s always a juggle navigating the cultural aspects with respect and bringing in the right people from the right language groups and songs. I think we’ve been blessed with the collaborators. We’re the composers, but the resources we pull on — like Djakapurra Munyarryun and Matthew Doyle and Kathy Marika and her family — without them, it’s kind of just music. It’d probably be quite nice music, but it wouldn’t have the cultural resonance and impact that it has without those song people or language.
There seems to be a glue that sticks the creative teams that work together at Bangarra. What is it about the company that keeps the best of Australia’s creative talent coming back?
Oh, it’s the best job in the world. Everyone talks about family, but this is definitely a community that you always feel a part of. Creatively, it’s incredibly challenging but it’s also a gift; this is not something that you get anywhere else. It’s a big responsibility and it’s a lot of work, but it’s also fun. We laugh so much. I joke with Stephen that I’ll just keep doing it until they stop asking me — why wouldn’t you?
When you do a piece with Bangarra, from the get-go you are a part of telling that story through the music. They’re my proudest moments.