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One of our stories well told: Radiance (1998). Stephen Page on Talking Heads

24 Apr

radiance.jpgLouis Nowra adapted his stage play Radiance for film in a collaborative process well discussed in the DVD extras. (Nowra has received a bit of publicity recently for his small book Bad Dreaming which I included in my best reads of 2007: see Worth more than 200,000 blogs?) The movie is consequently a bit stagey, as Mirella Roche-Parker says in her review, but as she also says:

The performances of Morton-Thomas, Maza and Mailman are nothing short of superb. They represent a trinity of aboriginal actors of a quality without peer. They infuse their performances with integrity, honesty and a dimensional reality that take complete ownership of the stories they are portraying. The tensions, resentments, agonies and fleeting moments of warmth between the three women are palpably real throughout.

The film is a watershed for Australian cinematic portrayal of aboriginal women. This is not a self-conscious or socially political film. It is a film about three women who happen to be aboriginal. Surely this approach has been a long time coming, and it is a refreshing innovation.

Radiance is an exploratory work: What makes relationships? What binds us into a family? What do we have to leave behind in order to move forward? Whilst frequently delving into the painful world of abuse and guilty secrets, it travels with a wit and warmth that allows it to avoid an overly moribund approach. It is a low key presentation that may well resonate with you for some time.


I certainly plan to watch it again before I have to return it to the Library. One review on the International Movie Data Base sums up: “A fine drama beautifully realised.” True. On the DVD one of those interviewed claims, rightly I think, that the movie broke new ground by presenting Indigenous women as women, not as social problems.

The film ends with “My Island Home.” Remember Christine Anu’s version at the 2000 Olympics?

Stephen Page on Talking Heads

Stephen Page has many accomplishments. One thinks of the amazing Bangarra Dance Theatre. His most recent project, Kin, has taken him home again.

Kin, a performance choreographed by Sidney Myer awarded Artistic Director of the Bangarra Dance company Stephen Page, featuring as performers his son Hunter Page-Lochard with six nephews Iseli Jarden, Ryan Jarden, Josiah Page, Samson Page, Sean Page and Curtis Walsh-Jarden…

performance-5-stephen-page.jpg

Stephen Page developed a very personal production based in this family process that explores the dynamic of kinship specific to his family as well as broader issues for young Indigenous males at an adolescent time of identity formation. They boys love of hip-hop and football is presented alongside their developing understandings of the spirits and stories of their heritage. For Curtis Walsh-Jarden, working on the performance has been profound, “It’s helped me through my own culture and I’m starting to know what it is now. Before I never used to know what it was like. It didn’t mean that much, but it meant heaps to be, but I didn’t know that much about it, now I know heaps.”

So it looks as if the Page dynasty is set to continue.

abo.jpgPage was also responsible for the amazing Aboriginal sequence at the Opening Ceremony of the 2000 Olympics (see right).

I was directing, David was composing, Russell was the principal dancer, and it was the Page show – the Page brothers show. I think we were a beautiful threat to a lot of people at that time. (Laughs) And it was, from then on, I think we just had a taste to bond together and synergise our creativity together. And it was not long after that we were all invited – well, I was invited – to be the Artistic Director of Bangarra Dance Theatre. In the early days of Bangarra, I still had that fire in the belly to dance and Russell and I used to dance a lot together. We’d even find wonderful moments where it was just the both of us on our own. In 1991, I became Artistic Director of Bangarra Dance Theatre, and six years later, we reclaimed Sydney Harbour as our home. We’ve produced 15 major works, which travel all over Australia and internationally. ‘Ochres’. ‘Fish’. ‘Skin’. ‘Corroboree’, ‘Walkabout’, ‘Clan’, ‘Boomerang’. They’re all there. (Laughs) One of the highlights for me was the Sydney Olympics in 2000. I got to choreograph and direct – co-direct, with Rhoda Roberts – the Indigenous segment, which was called the ‘Awakening’. It was working with 1,000 Indigenous people. And it was amazing. In 2004, I had another great experience and that was directing the Adelaide Festival. It’s known as one of the biggest festivals in Australia and everyone kept thinking, “Oh, don’t give him that festival, “he’s just going to do a complete Indigenous program.” And now I wish I did. (Laughs) But the beautiful stuff – the Indigenous stuff – was what grounded the rest of the programming. And I can’t escape my Aboriginality. No. (Laughs) The saddest thing for me was losing my brother, Russell. And ah… he was the youngest of the 12. I think when we lost Phillip, our first brother, the family sort of drifted apart. But when we lost Russell it damaged the old spirit of the family. And, ah, I think it will take a long time to recover, for all of us. We’ll grieve until the day we die, I think. He was a big part of my life, especially. And, yeah, he sadly is missed, in my heart…

PETER THOMPSON: One of the mysterious things about his taking his own life was that – from the outside – it seemed he was really at the height of his artistic success.

STEPHEN PAGE: I think, for Russy, it used to sort of… He hated the limelight, he hated all that sort of stuff, but yet the best place for him – he loved being – was being on stage. And being the spirit of a performer. So, the juxtaposition of both things I think was a tricky one for him. I just… You know, he had personal things and we all have personal things in our lives and, you know, I think mixing the both just totally confused him.

Sadness too. And plenty of passion.

…Oh, look, Aboriginal people – look at those visual artists, look at the story-telling, look at this country. It can’t even decide and pay respect to the first nation’s peoples. This country can’t even work out what its identity is. And yet, it’ll always put a little Aboriginal token essence in there. I’ve gone off the track now, why you’ve just asked me that question, but dance – Aboriginal dance – is from the earth. It’s 40,000 years old. It’s an art form that’s part of a bigger artistic canvas. And, you know… There’s a history of white dance, I’m sure. But it don’t come from the ground like black fella dance.

PETER THOMPSON: What, coming from the ground is different from the structure and the steps of white fellas’ dance?

STEPHEN PAGE: It’s just a form. I think it’s… It comes from within. It doesn’t come from outwards in, it comes from within. It has a strong spiritual connection…

PETER THOMPSON: And what about from the white world, what flak do you get there?

STEPHEN PAGE: I don’t care about the Western form anymore, to tell you the truth. I mean, you look at the state of the world. I just think Western form has destroyed the simple principles and values of the world. You look at America. You know, I love them old fellas in the bush that are 120 years old and they just live and obey that earth, they live in that land. They think Uluru’s going to lift up in 100 years time and there’ll be another 50 million Aboriginal people who’ll walk out. They believe everyone’s going to be Aboriginal in 100 years. So for me… I know this sounds like I’m on some bad medication, but, it, um… the Western form – I try not to get caught up in. I try to be really honest and try to rekindle what those wonderful values are about my culture. And I think a lot of my black peers out there – whether they’re concreters or politicians – I think they all hang on to that sense of hope and that thread…

I met a couple of the Page brothers once at Kristina’s place in 1988. I honestly don’t remember a lot about them, except they were very good looking.

NOTE: Some starting points for looking at Aboriginal cultural and artistic achievement may be found on my Indigenous Australians page and in the links (tab above) under “Aussie Interest”. See especially the links on Eniar; scroll down to the bottom when you get there.

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One response to “One of our stories well told: Radiance (1998). Stephen Page on Talking Heads

  1. Jim Belshaw

    April 24, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    Interesting post, Neil. You raise some things I need to think about. Do you know any writing that traces the development of Aboriginal cultural activities over the last sixty or so years?

     
 
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