Firestarter: The Story of Bangarra
Stephen Page, Wesley Enoch
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A touching testament to resilience, talent and brotherhood…
This the story of one of the most successful first nation dance groups in the world. Its history and dancers are entwined in white Australia’s history.
The heart of Bangarra’s 30 year legacy lies at the feet of three brothers: David, Stephen and Russell Page. Formed out of the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association (NAISDA) dance college in Glebe, Sydney, the Bangarra Dance Theatre became the centre of their worlds. Stephen as the young upstart Artistic Director, David as the child star turned composer and Russell as the passionate and troubled dancer.
Co-directors Wayne Blair and Nel Minchin use a collage of news reports, home movies and talking heads to create a monument dedicated to Bangarra and the Page family. The narrative, like the dancers on screen, ebbs and flows in time with a score that includes David Page’s work.
Firestarter highlights the history that defined Bangarra, such as the Bicentennial Protest March, while never shying away from the trauma that ran through the company right through to this very day. The stolen generation, to name but one historical tragedy, raises its ugly head several times throughout and we are reminded of the residual pain that flows through the blood and DNA of the Aboriginal community. For the Page brothers, this begins with their father’s displacement in his childhood through to the tragic and well publicised loss of Russell, followed by David. Throwing himself into his work, Stephen does so, knowing the impact Bangarra can have on boys and girls like him, when they finally see themselves on stage.
These events, along with genuine moments of warmth, shape the work of the theatre; moving from ‘light’ digestible fare to more complex emotions rooted in Black history. The documentary’s directors allow us time to soak in the genius of Bangarra, and while there is no I in team, it’s hard to not focus on the energy Russell brought to the stage as he glides effortlessly across the stage.
A touching testament to resilience, talent and brotherhood, Firestarter is a fascinating documentary that keeps the fire of conversation and political awareness burning.