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Russell, Stephen and David Page – the trio whose life and death form the core of ‘Firestarter’

Jeremy Eccles | 04.02.21

Author: Jeremy Eccles
News Source: Review
Publication date: 20210218000000

This movie is much more than a dance movie – something most fans of the Bangarra Dance Theater would expect. There are, after all, 31 years of its productions and dancers to celebrate. Corn ‘Fire starterDirectors Wayne Blair and Nel Minchin immerse us in the heart of Indigenous pain that arises not only from the tragic loss of two of the three Page brothers (Russell and David), but simply from the battle that the First Nations people of the generation of the referendum have had. to fight to “be proud of the native”, as one dancer puts it bluntly.

“We are all Bennelong today,” announces Stephen Page, the man who has the nerve to assume the artistic direction of Bangarra at 24 years old. The film offers images of the Eora man literally locked up like so many Indigenous people today by the pressures of black and white society.

I remember the emergence of the wonderful writer Sally Morgan in the 1980s. Her book ‘My place’ propelled her to national notoriety, so that she became the go-to commentator on any issue involving Aboriginal people. Far too soon, she retired injured in Perth.

But, as Stephen Page struggles to decide whether his own drive contributed to the suicides of his two brothers, he must also answer the question posed by curator Hetti Perkins in the film – both about herself and Page: ” What difference did I make? ”No wonder he took the advice of longtime Yolngu cultural advisor, dancer and huge singer, Djakapurra Munyurryun to“ go listen to the wind and the birds ”on his father’s Beaudesert Country in Queensland.

Because, at work after David’s death, everything poured into the dance, and as one of the dancers realized, “his lack of self-esteem was unbearable.”

Yet throughout the process, the pressure on Bangarra not to fail as “one of the most successful First Nations businesses in the world” was an almost impossible burden.

After following Bangarra from almost the start – reviewing (and raving) his first test performances of the iconic ‘Ochres‘interviewing Stephen and David and voting for Russell as Male Dancer of the Year at the Australian Dance Awards, I couldn’t be sad throughout this movie – although Stephen’s aging and reflection will make hearts envy the hardest to share his tears. For the family of twelve, Page is a constant delight in the films shot by teenager David; the meeting of the three pages in Bangarra in a show like “Praying mantisIs a glorious image of “the fearlessness of youth” – as one avuncular Graeme Murphy identified it, having taken Stephen to his Sydney Dance Company for a period of training; and Stephen’s recognition that his urban world was not the complete picture of aboriginal Australia, humbly traveling to Arnhemland to learn from the Munyurryuns and Marikas, and to bring their traditional culture as honestly as possible to the cities.

His father – denied his culture – was delighted that his sons “reconnect with the culture”.

For there was no other way that Page could have taken on the monster Aboriginal section of the Sydney Olympics Opening Ceremony – all of it tribal – and make it so memorable to the world. Unfortunately, he reports that he was under pressure to boycott the event from other Aborigines. Fortunately, he resisted and many saw the diversity of First Nations cultures for the very first time.

We need more Stephen.

And surely we need more movies like this that can visually delight with the slow-motion flight of a dancer in a cloud of ocher and then defy so much a priori. David Page a joker? Not when you realize how central the Indigenous language was to his musical creation, and when you hear it utter, “the evisceration of our identity had to stop, with our art forms as a weapon to overcome the dying culture of” a beautiful breed ”. Stephen as a limited choreographer? Not in this film where the dance must carry so much anger, history and politics – and yet continues to find an ever larger audience. Russell as “our Nureyev”? Almost certainly in body and movement; but his fragility offstage was pretty obvious from the start.

And then there’s the story – how many of us have tried to support Bangarra’s position over the past 30 years. The 1988 Survival Day March. Paul Keating’s Redfern speech, for Bangarra, was his warm-up number. I had forgotten that he admitted to having “broken the traditional way of life” even before his successor invented the Intervention. And the reconciliation march in Sydney by thousands of optimists. We need to remember such things because Wesley Enoch identifies our fundamental flaw: “Australia is a nation that wants to forget, repress uncomfortable memories.”

You will remember this wonderful movie for many years to come.

It opens February 11 in Darwin and nationwide on February 18


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Culture key man Djakapurra Munyurryun preparing for iconic Ocher production he then starred in the opening of the Olympics


“We are all Bennelong today,” Stephen Page said of the pressures interculturalism puts on the Eora man.

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