Acclaimed Artistic Director and Choreographer Stephen Page brings Bangarra Dance Theatre’s outstanding dance work SPEAR to the screen. Striking and original, Page weaves story through dance to deliver an extraordinary cinematic experience in his feature film debut.
Using gesture and dance, with minimal dialogue, SPEAR follows a young Aboriginal man named Djali (Hunter Page-Lochard) from the outback to the streets of Sydney on his quest to understand what it means to be a man with ancient traditions in a modern world.
Featuring brilliant Bangarra dancers and an evocative David Page score that combines traditional and contemporary music, SPEAR is an intimate journey with one of Australia’s most celebrated artists and one of the most affecting and spiritually resonant films of the year.
Director and Co-Writer Stephen Page
has the belief that we connect to stories simultaneously at a number of levels, through the heart, the mind and the spirit. It’s perhaps with this belief that he’s become one of Australia’s most celebrated artists as he continues to reimagine Indigenous storytelling both through his work at Bangarra Dance Theatre and his collaborations in other art forms.
The original dance theatre work of SPEAR in 2000 is a work that broke new ground, utilising song and spoken word, and demonstrated Stephen’s desire to creatively push boundaries. Stephen had thought that of his repertoire of work, SPEAR would lend itself to a screen adaptation. Whilst leading Bangarra, he continued his interest in telling stories in various forms through his direction of theatre shows and choreography in films such as The Sapphires and Bran Nue Dae.
In 2011, SPEAR Executive Producer Robert Connolly approached Stephen to be part of his groundbreaking project THE TURNING. Based on Tim Winton’s book of short stories, Robert invited 17 of the countries leading artists and filmmakers to each adapt a chapter for the screen.
Stephen was drawn to the chapter of SAND, a male story of a brother’s sibling rivalry that turns dark. SPEAR Producer John Harvey was at the time undertaking a Screen Australia Indigenous Producer Internship with Robert at Arenamedia. Stephen approached John to produce SAND. They began building a team around the project including Writer Justin Monjo, Director of Photography Bonnie Elliott and Production Designer Jacob Nash, all of whom would collaborate again on SPEAR.
It would be a groundbreaking film on many levels including the first Australian feature film produced by an Indigenous producer.
At the heart of this adaption of the work from the stage to the screen was the collaboration between artists and filmmakers.
Stephen’s adaption of the chapter was stunning, weaving a heightened stylised choreographic world with a natural world aesthetic. His strong and original voice for cinema sparked widespread acclaim and SAND became the most viewed chapter of THE TURNING on ABC iView.
In 2013, the Adelaide Film Festival announced the HIVE Initiative. An Initiative of the Festival, in partnership with the Australia Council for the Arts, Screen Australia and ABC Arts. The HIVE Fund supports projects from Australian artists and filmmakers in a true convergence of arts and film practice. Following the success of THE TURNING, Robert, Stephen and John began exploring the idea of reimagining Stephen’s dance theatre piece of SPEAR for the big screen.
It was about creating something else – a film like no other – that draws upon various artistic forms in creating it’s own unique language of storytelling, whilst maintaining the energy and spirit that has become synonymous with Stephen’s works for Bangarra Dance Theatre.
Bangarra Dance Theatre became a key partner to the project, not just the company’s dancers, but also their creative, productions and administration teams.
During 2014, Stephen and Co-Writer Justin Monjo met regularly, talking all things story and the challenge of adapting SPEAR for the screen. How do you translate a 40-minute dance theatre work into an 80-minute work for the screen? How do you keep audiences in the story – and not fall into making an art piece for art sake, but also maintain the language of dance and movement without relying on traditional film tools such as narration for carrying the story?
Again, Stephen would find himself reinventing his own language of storytelling which he has developed over the years in his directing collaborations with dance companies, theatre companies and film directors. Together, Stephen and Justin crafted a 30-page ‘scriptment’ that would become the blueprint for the film.
For Stephen, SPEAR wasn’t about making a film about dance or creating a dance work for film.
In January 2015, in the midst of a warm Sydney summer, pre-production began at Bangarra Dance Theatre home on Pier 5, overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge. As both director and choreographer for the film, Stephen worked tirelessly across the dance rehearsal studio, to meetings with DoP Bonnie Elliott, Production Designer Jacob Nash, Costume Designer Jennifer Irwin and the production team.
The film was shot on location in some of Australia’s most alluring landscapes from the gritty city streets of Sydney to a wild rugged coastline that greets the Pacific Ocean.
Avoiding iconic Australian landscapes of the desert outback and golden beaches, Stephen wanted to show Indigenous people in a new light, a mixture of modern and old, but always truthful to the present.
t’s a family affair with Stephen’s brother David Page composing the music for the film, with the project dedicated to their late brother Russell Page, a gifted Bangarra dancer. Djakapurra Munyarryun is the other original cast member from the dance theatre production. His performance is mesmerising and he played a pivotal cultural advisory role on the film.
It’s through this unique collaboration between artist and filmmakers that this groundbreaking film delivers an extraordinarily cinematic experience through Stephen’s stunningly original voice.
However it’s done in a way that resonates with real life – and has a female energy and spirit that weaves through the story, offering support, spiritual guidance and rebirth.
The film has embarked on a journey of discovery that was grounded in a commitment to maintain a spirit and energy in the creative process that would ultimately find its way to the screen. As one crew member with decades of film experience said “it’s like nothing I’ve worked on before, but has required me to use everything that I have learnt before.”
SPEAR is a celebration of family, of spirit, and of hope. Hunter Page-Lochard, an original cast member from the theatre version of SPEAR, plays the lead in the film. He is also Stephen’s son and a highly-acclaimed actor in his own right.
SPEAR is a poignant reflection on the continuing connection of Indigenous people to land, spirit and each other.Thematically the film explores issues affecting young Indigenous men.