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culture club 2- stephen page and wesley enoch in conversation with caroline baum

Culture Club Nov 30_credit Prudence Upton 035
Caroline Baum, Wesley Enoch and Stephen Page. Photography by Prudence Upton

This second passionate and inspiring discussion, part of the current Culture Club forum series, saw Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director Stephen Page and Sydney Festival’s next Artistic Director Wesley Enoch in conversation with Caroline Baum about contemporary cultural moments relying on traditional myth and storytelling.

Caroline Baum, elegantly dressed in black, is  a former producer of the ABC Radio National Arts Today program, the founding editor of Good Reading magazine, features editor of Vogue Australia and is currently editorial director of Booktopia.

Wesley Enoch, wearing a snazzy casual grey charcoal suit, harks from from Stradbroke Island in Queensland, and is a proud Noonuccal Nuugi man. Enoch will take over as Sydney Festival Artistic Dirtector from current director Lieven Bertels who completes his term in January next year, marking the Festival’s 40th anniversary.

Enoch was Artistic Director of the Queensland Theatre Company from 2010 until earlier this year and the Associate Artistic Director of the Belvoir Street theatre from 2007 until 2010.

Stephen Page, casually dressed and wearing one of his signature baseball caps, has been Artistic Director of the internationally acclaimed Bangarra Dance Theatre since 1991, developing a signature body of works that have become landmarks in the Australian performing arts. Page comes from the Nunukul people and the Munaldjali clan of the Yugambeh nation from SE Queensland.

Presently Page’s highly regarded production Ochres is playing at Carriageworks in Redfern until the 5th December.

The discussion began with Baum asking both men about their earliest childhood memories of being told stories. Page replied that his parents and family were forever telling stories, and sharing community gossip and anecdotes. Enoch mentioned that his father shared  stories about his whale watching.

The Queensland Theatre Company’s (QTC) production of Romeo and Juliet came up for discussion with the decision to cast a non Koori Juliet and a Koori Romeo. Another QTC production The Seven Stages of Grieving– where a table , representing the character’s Aboriginal history – is buried, got a mention.

Both Page and Enoch stressed that in their works they were trying to communicate a feeling of being connected to the land and the need to respect community, elders and culture.

Gender issues and women’s business versus men’s business and how this can effect the staging of a work entered the discussion. The perennial issue of domestic violence was also raised.

Both men grew up in a church environment, and were cognisant of Greek mythology and the dynamic tensions  between the Gods and humans. Baum prodded as to how much this ‘world’ influenced their work. Both agreed that the myths still had plenty of contemporary relevance.

The discussion went on to discussion on spirituality. Enoch said that whenever people gathered together there was a spiritual component. Then, however, he want on to pose the question, are we living at a shallow distance, or with a deep connection, to each other?!

Page then spoke about the responsibility –well nigh burden – of being head of a major company  performing arts company.

Baum asked both gentlemen if there were any Western based stories that they were keen to produce.  Enoch straight away replied Shakespeare’s Pericles.

Throughout the discussion, the notions of connectedness, of how we engage with history, and the preservation of culture came across as paramount.

The gentlemen mused about where society might be many generations from now, and where the revolutions in technology will lead us…

Both agreed that all of us have been given gifts and should accept the responsibility to accept challenges and to pass on our stories.

Various questions were taken  from the audience and then the time- running time 75 minutes- was up, and the very stimulating Culture Club 2 forum came to a close.

CULTURE CLUB 2: OTHER PEOPLE’S STORIES was held at the Utzon Room, Sydney Opera House  on Monday 30th November.

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