More than a dance company, Bangarra Dance Theatre is a collective of Cultural Activists, and this cultural activism is superbly illustrated by FIRESTARTER: THE STORY OF BANGARRA, a filmed time capsule that celebrates the Company’s first thirty years.
Bangarra is a Wiradjuri word which means “to make fire” and the conception of Bangarra certainly put a flame under Australia’s Euro-centric arts hole.
What burned up the stage was created by the Page – three brothers, Stephen, David and Russel Page – a literal from Page to Stage phenomenon.
As FIRESTARTER tracks the rise of Bangarra, culminating in its era defining work Ochres and a spectacularly triumphant contribution to the 2000 Sydney Olympics opening ceremony, we realise what contributor Hetti Perkins means at the start of the film when saying: ‘once you pick up the torch, you never get to put it down. And that sort of thing comes at a cost.” The ghosts of the past haunt the Page family.
As much as FIRESTARTER is a film of exuberance and triumph, it does not shy away from the struggle of generational suffering that is continuous and isn’t stopping and won’t stop until people listen.
Through its art, Bangarra cuts to the heart and plays a huge part in the movement for positive social change and the unblocking of block head ears. As Stephen Page is attributed to saying: “Bangarra was in the business of reconciliation long before it became fashionable.”
As a new generation of dancers takes us into the future, it is obvious that FIRESTARTER is ultimately not a story of tragedy. It’s the story of art as medicine, and its role as the messenger of social change and pride. It’s a story of resilience, of overcoming obstacles and the embrace and re-birth of a 65,000-year-old culture, the longest continuously surviving culture in the world. A culture that white Australia once tried to wipe out. In vain.
Written & Directed by: NEL MINCHIN & WAYNE BLAIR, FIRESTARTER: THE STORY OF BANGARRA is compulsory viewing.
Russell Page, Stephen Page and David Page, Bangarra, Photo by Paul Sweeney
Featured image : Russell Page, Stephen Page and David Page, Bangarra, Photo by Paul Sweeney