First published on 28 Aug 2009. Updated on 20 Apr 2011.
Stephen, what's Fire all about? It's a celebration of Bangarra. The word "Bangarra" means "to make fire". The company's been going for 20 years and Fire is excerpts from about eight productions from over the years - sort of a cut and paste. There'll be 14 dancers and guest artists on stage.
Is there a linking narrative in Fire? There's a traditional aboriginal section that pays homage to Northeast Arnhem Land. There's a [section] about traditional Torres Strait Islander dance and the contemporary influences. There's a social [section] where it's talking about abuses in our societies, from substance to physical abuse. And there are abstract, mythological creations.
What's going to happen at the special Koori Reunion Gala night on 12 September? It's called Corroboree. There's been a hundred dancers that have gone through the company over the last 20 years and hopefully they'll come back [on stage] and just celebrate this great legacy.
What do you see as Bangarra's great achievement over the last 20 years? Marrying the old traditions with the evolving modern forms, and just being able to sustain a mainstream indigenous dance company.
Do you see yourselves as cultural ambassadors? We travel overseas. People overseas are interested in Australian indigenous culture and they know a lot more about indigenous history than white Australia does. In Germany and other places they want to know more about what happened to the Stolen Generation, about the Hidden Holocaust here, about the First Australians. Our shows open that door to how we survive as a culture.
How did the company begin? The company evolved in 1989 out of NAISDA, Australia's National Indigenous Dance School. [Founder] Carole Johnson, an African-American lady, was the catalyst behind it. Blackfellas couldn't get a fuckin' job in the mainstream; the Australian Ballet wasn't going to take them, no one was going to take them, so they formed their own company and Bangarra was founded.
Ochres (1995) is considered your breakthrough work. Why? Because it didn't make traditional dance look like a token corroboree. We were able to use contemporary music and modern forms inspired by the physical motifs of traditional dance.
Has the apology changed anything? There wasn't a national public holiday for Sorry Day. I mean, who remembered February 13 this year? And white Australia thinks, "OK, we've said sorry, now let's move on." I just think it's always ten steps forward and ten steps back. And when there's any social problem, the media love to blow it up. But that's why we do what we do. We use art as a medicine, we use dance as a medicine.