Bangarra's Artistic Director, Stephen Page will step down after three decades

Stephen Page steps down from Bangarra Stephen Page and Frances Rings. Courtesy of The Australian, 2021.

Bangarra Dance Theatre has recently announced that Yugambeh man Stephen Page will step down from his role as artistic director in 2023. Page has led Bangarra Dance Theatre's creative direction for more than three decades, taking the contemporary First Nations dance company from strength to strength. Bangarra's 2022 season will feature Page's most ambitious and personal work to date, Wujang: Not The Past (ABC News, 2021). It is following this production that Stephen Page will pass the reins over to former Bangarra dancer and celebrated choreographer, Frances Rings.

In an interview with Timeout (2021), Page talked about his reason for leaving and handing over this important role to Kokatha woman, Rings:  

“I am delighted to now entrust the future of Bangarra to this deeply committed and community-connected cultural leader not only because of her sensational artistry but because her lived experience is that Bangarra is so much more than an arts organisation. Ceremonially I pass her this precious coolamon filled with all our truly unique First Nations dancers and administrators as well as our many valuable non-Indigenous supporters.”

Stephen Page's Career at Bangarra

Stephen Page on stage with Bangarra Dancers for Sandsong

Stephen Page with Bangarra dancers Baden Hitchcock and Rika Hamaguchi. after a preview of SandSong in June. Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP, courtesy of The Guardian, 2021.

Page, a descendant of the Nunukul people and the Munaldjali clan of the Yugambeh Nation from South East Queensland, was appointed as artistic director of Bangarra in 1991. For over more than three decades, Page has perfected Bangarra's signature dance style that fuses together contemporary and cultural dance.

Over the last decade, under Stephen Page's direction, Bangarra Dance Theatre has grown exponentially and churned out award-winning dance productions that have gained worldwide acclaim. In 2018, Page's major work Bennelong won six Helpmann Awards as well as the categories Best New Australian Work and Best Choreographer. The following year, the Indigenous dance company celebrated their 30 year anniversary with of an online archive, and the retrospective program, 30 years of Sixty Five Thousand (NIT, 2021).

Bangarra dance film Firestarter Firestarter: The Story of Bangarra. Courtesy of ABC Commercial, 2022.

In 2020, Bangarra Dance Theatre released their incredibly moving documentary, Firestarter:The Story of BangarraThe incredible piece of film documented Bangarra's evolution, including the loss and trauma that both Page and the company has experienced. Page lost both of his brothers and fellow collaborators David and Russell to suicide. His brothers Russell and David were both heavily involved in the company, as Russell was one of the lead dancers and David was Bangarra's longstanding musical director. After the tragic loss of his brothers, Page threw himself into his work, creating some of Bangarra's most successful and emotional productions (ABC News, 2021).

All of these achievements and incredible creations have been fuelled by Page's incredible vision, leadership, and strong connection to family, culture and community. Page has been a crucial part of building Bangarra into what it is today: a performing arts company renowned for their depictions of Country and culture through collaboration and beautiful storytelling.

Bangarra's 2022 Season

Bangarra's 2022 production, Wudjang: Not the PastBangarra's 2022 production, Wudjang: Not the Past. Courtesy of Roslyn Packer Theatre, 2022.

Bangarra's 2022 season will open with what is being talked about as Page's most ambitious personal work. Wudjang: Not The Past, directed and choreographed by Page, will premiere at the Sydney Festival on the 17th of January. The powerful story, in collaboration with the Sydney Theatre Company, begins with a group of workers finding some ancestral bones when excavating a dam. Then, a Yugambeh man among them convinces his fellow workers to keep the bones. These ancestral bones belong to Wudjang, an ancestor who desperately whats to be reburied the proper way. The dancers act out the journey of finding a traditional resting place on Country for Wudjang (ABC New, 2021).

The production is directed and choreographed by Page and co-written with award-winning playwright Alana Valentine. It will also be touring to the Hobart and Adelaide Festivals, so if you have the opportunity we highly recommend going to see this incredible dance production. You can find tickets and more information about the show here.

Frances Rings' Career

The Kokatha woman of German descent joined Bangarra in 1993, after graduating from the NAISDA dancing college. Over the last 10 years, Rings has developed extensive experience as a dancer, choreography and artistic director.

Off the stage, Rings has hosted SBS’s weekly Indigenous Current Affairs program ICAM, and honed her choreographic skills at the West Australian Ballet and Tasdance. Rings also spent some time working as a freelance dancer and choreographer before returning back to Bangarra in 2010 to take up her role as resident choreographer where she went on to create her acclaimed work Terrain (ABC News, 2021).

Terrain choreographed by Frances Rings Terrain choreographed by Frances Rings. Courtesy of Bangarra, 2022.

Frances Rings will become one of only a few women leading major performing arts companies in Australia. In an interview with ABC News (2021), Rings talked about the importance of women being in these positions of leadership: 

"I think that women see the world differently, they have different ways of leadership, of holding space, that really allows others to contribute; to be a part of a clan, of an organisation, that's moving forward and exploring different things."

She then went onto to talk about how it is both incredible and daunting taking on the role as Bangarra's artistic director:

"I inherit this incredible legacy, this cultural foundation, that Stephen has put so much energy and incredible hard work [into], along with sacrifices."

As we can see, Stephen Page has made an incredible contribution to Indigenous communities through bringing First Nations dance, culture and storytelling to the big stage. As Bangarra moves forward and Page passes the torch to Frances Rings, we can't wait to see what's in store for the company's future.