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Review: 'Firestarter' Shines a light on how Bangarra Dance Theatre helped change the world

Updated: May 15, 2022

Breanne Doyle, DOXA 2021, 14 May 2021

When you’re born into a culture which is often left out of history books, inherited trauma can follow throughout your life. To then dedicate your life to telling the stories of your culture to massive audiences in a deeply personal and physically demanding way adds more weight on your shoulders.

Firestarter follows the work and lives of Stephen, David, and Russell Page, three Aboriginal brothers from Queensland, Australia. After enduring racism and cultural suppression during their formative years, they found themselves reclaiming their history in their early 20s as pioneering members of the Bangarra Dance Theatre. Established in 1989, the company was founded with a mission to have Black and Indigenous artists to explore and learn more about their culture and to share it with the rest of Australia.

Today, Bangarra is one of the most well-established and critically acclaimed dance companies in the world.

Directed by Wayne Blair and Nel Minchin, Firestarter was filmed in 2019 against the backdrop of the Bangarra Dance Company’s 30th anniversary celebrations.

Through the theatre of Bangarra and the lives of the Page brothers, the film explores what it means for Australian black and Indigenous people to share their stories through art.

In becoming cultural ambassadors, the Page brothers found creative expression, community, and strength in storytelling of their culture. However, they also had to reconcile within themselves their inherited trauma and grieve their shared past of exclusion, suffering, and erasure.

Firestarter is an intensely personal story told through childhood footage, archived interviews, and clips from the Page brothers’ days at the Aborginal/Islander Dance Theatre school (now NAISDA: National Aborignal and Islander Skills Association. There’s also video from past Bangarra performances, and intimate stories from former and present members of the troupe.

By tying these elements together, the film sends a powerful message about celebrating one’s heritage, pushing boundaries, and how art can help to reclaim an entire culture’s place in society. For many years, traditional Black, Aboriginal and Island dance wasn’t accepted by many Australians. As Firestarter makes clear, the Page brothers helped change that in a massively important way with Bangarra Dance Theatre.

Firestarter is being streamed at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival until May 16. For more information, visit the DOXA website.

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