"A dramaturg is part chisel, part water-diviner"
When did you first read Dark Emu, and what impact did it have on you?
"Dark Emu is a formidable achievement of scholarship and it is an astonishing act of generosity for Bruce to share this knowledge and understanding with Australia and the world. I read the book soon after it was published in 2014 and esteem it as one of the seminal texts of Australian history. When I met Bruce and told him how in awe I was of his achievement he said, ‘It’s just the old stories you know and they were always there and that’s the thing that breaks my heart.’"
How closely have you engaged with the text in your work for this production?
"I’ve read the work innumerable times and it is the heartbeat of every conversation Stephen and I have had. If I can put it this way, Dark Emu has been like the deep well from which we have drawn words and ideas and understanding. We have given them a new flow and a new form but it is Bruce’s insights and cultural gifts that speak in the music and through the dancers."
Can you describe how you collaborate with Stephen Page on works like Bennelong and Dark Emu?
"A dramaturg is part chisel, part water-diviner, it’s like being a useful tool that the primary artist can use to chip away down to the deepest source of their inspiration, like a feather that quivers when you are close to truth and spirit and joy and pain. I collaborate with Stephen by listening to his profound motivation for making the work and then reminding him of that through the process and resourcing him with notes from the book or found images or lines of poetry or news or whatever might complement and support his artistic vision. The way Stephen works is also to combine a dazzling array of elements into a cohesive work of dramatic beauty and the structural experience of a playwright can be useful to draw on in that process."
Dance is largely a movement-based vocabulary: how important are words and language in Bangarra’s works, particularly those you’ve contributed to?
"The elements that all artists are working with are unnameable emotions and innovative ideas – a writer tries to corral those things in words, and a choreographer in movement – but in essence both have to structure those emotions and ideas so that they build and gain power over the time of the work, and struggle to express ideas in ways that are subtle and complex. In both Bennelong and Dark Emu the language and English words are an interpretive element of the music, a flash of cognition that thread though the work like light or colour and add to the power of the storytelling."
What qualities do you love about Bangarra’s dancers?
"I love the abundance of their generosity in using their bodies and their artistry and their discipline and their cultural knowledge and their deep, deep connection to spirit to tell stories to the Bangarra audiences. I love their playfulness and their resilience and I adore how eager and open and at-out tight they are with everyone who works with the company. I love the complexity of the personalities – they are a stylish, hipster, deep and earnest, frivolous, radical cocktail of individuals. But most of all I love that they are so profoundly proud of their identity and so reverent about the sacred responsibilities they carry in their bodies and hearts."