Large group of Bangarra (Indigenous dance group) dancers performing on stage, with large ring prop at centre
Case study /
Promoting Australia

Stephen: cultural diplomacy

Daniel Boud/Bangarra Dance Theatre

Storytelling has always been an integral part of Stephen Page’s life. As a proud descendant of the Nunukul people and the Munaldjali clan from Queensland, he grew up with a strong connection to his country and his ancestors. ‘I’ve always been curious about mythological stories and traditional stories’, Stephen says.

Stephen Page, headshot, populated stage and theatre pews in background

Stephen Page.  Image credit: Linda Roche/DFAT

Stephen was determined to do his bit to keep those stories alive for the next generation and to share their beauty and power with the rest of Australia––dance was his medium. He was classically trained and became a dancer and a choreographer for the Sydney Dance Company, Sydney Theatre Company, Opera Australia, and the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association. Since 1991, he has served as Artistic Director of Bangarra Dance Theatre––Australia’s leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performing arts company. The stories that Bangarra tells are drawn from across Australia and reflect the tremendous diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditions and cultural practices.

Traditional culture, told through stories, through the myriad of mediums, is a great way to imprint a true identity about who we are as Australia.

Stephen is passionate about bringing Bangarra to the world. ‘Traditional culture, told through stories, through the myriad of mediums, is a great way to imprint a true identity about who we are as Australia.’

Bangarra has performed in almost 70 countries across South Africa, North America, Southeast Asia and Europe. No matter where the company travels, it always elicits a strong response. ‘The great thing about performing arts; traditional First Nations arts, is a wonderful medicine. It is a means of connecting and bringing and it’s a great way to bring people together and to connect people.’

One of Stephen’s most memorable experiences was an outdoor performance in Jakarta when Bangarra brought to life stories shared by the Indigenous peoples of both Indonesia and Australia. The collaboration spoke to thousands of years of contact between the countries. Indonesia ‘was one of Australia’s first inter-cultural and creative trading partners’ and this collaboration highlighted Australia’s enduring connections within the region.

Bangarra and the Australian Government have been partners in promoting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and excellence for decades. When touring, Bangarra often works closely with embassies in organising and marketing its performances, and hosts workshops with local dance groups and school children. The company also engages Indigenous peoples around the world, which helps forge links between Indigenous groups. Cultural activities like this help build audiences for Australian artistic work and add to our international influence.

Six Bangarra (Indigenous dance group) dancers performing on stage, with a large ring prop at centre

Bennelong, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Sydney Opera House.  Image credit: Daniel Boud/Bangarra Dance Theatre

For Stephen, Bangarra’s partnership with the Australian Government is ultimately about a shared commitment to promote the world’s oldest continuous culture. ‘Our contact with the government has been a strong relationship right from the start. And it’s a serious one. It’s not just art for art’s sake…we have a responsibility to protect and care…. It’s about a 40,000 year commitment.’