Tragedy has struck a second time for the Page clan with the death last weekend of David Page, composer, actor and autobiographer. David was the musical heartbeat of Bangarra Dance Theatre, composing scores for 27 of the company’s 35 major works. As Bangarra’s announcement of his death from unknown causes at 55 put it: He invented a pioneering modern soundtrack that embodied traditional language, song and instrumentation with the sounds of electronica, hip-hop, classical and nature, defining the Bangarra sound that would fill the theatre and leave audiences reverberating with hauntingly beautiful melodies. David had an innate talent for giving voice to Country that could awaken emotions from deep within.
David was the eighth of 12 children to a family descended from the Nunukul people and the Munaldjali clan of the Yugambeh tribe from South East Queensland “ their father speaking Yugambeh as a kid. They also have Chinese and English blood. His brother Russell, one of Australia’s most brilliant dancers, took his own life in the 90s. Brother Stephen survives as the Artistic Director of Bangarra, which all three joined in 1991.
David was in fact the first of these creative brothers to break through following backyard performances with his family in Mt Gravatt in Brisbane. They led to his discovery in a talent quest, achieving a teenage singing career as Little Davey Page, and becoming the first Australian to be signed to the legendary Motown label, Atlantic Records.
This period of his life was later translated into a highly successful one-man show, ‘Page 8’, which he starred in to great acclaim both here and internationally. ‘Page 8’ was co-written by Louis Nowra and directed by Stephen in one of the brothers’ many collaborations. The show took his cross-dressing young life up to the point where he came out as gay and went to study the saxophone, voice, composition and song at the Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Music (CASM) in Adelaide. This classical training gave David the foundation for composing and making traditional song connections.
I interviewed David about this show in March 2006 when he presented it for international approval at the Australian Performing Arts Market, and he told me of his sadly unfulfilled dream to be the first Aboriginal Frankenfurter in ‘The Rocky Horror Show’. The closest he got was to play Reg Livermore’s Black Siamese twin in ‘Big Sister’ “ an idea that only struck Livermore when Page auditioned for him. David remained torn between performing and getting into my cave to create my signature style of composition.
It involved both understanding and being understood in Arnhemland, where they treasure their music. They realised I was basing my work on their ‘whitewash’ songs “ the public ones where they use white ochre for dancing. But being there allowed me to recognise the true significance of putting music to dance “ as they’ve been doing for a thousand years. I had to respect that; just as they had to realise that in the end, music for Bangarra’s dances and for the Sydney Olympic’s Opening Ceremony had to be contemporary “ it couldn’t be ‘yellow’, somewhere half way between traditional and contemporary.
Among his many award wins and nominations, David was the recipient of three Helpmann Awards for Best Original Score for Bangarra compositions (‘Mathinna‘ 2008,Â ‘Belong‘ 2011 with Steve Francis and ‘Blak‘ 2013 with Paul Mac), a Green Room Award for acting in ‘Page 8‘, four Deadly Awards for sound and an ARIA nomination. Extraordinarily, Page only learnt to write his compositions down when working with Elena Kats-Chernin on an Australian Ballet score, ‘Amalgamate‘ in 2007.
It must have been a fascinating fusion of techniques. For David explained to me,I believe there’s a spiritual intuition somewhere inside me when it comes to creating music. It just happens; I dream it and hum along with it. Stephen works pretty much the same way.
David was also a talented actor, with his first leading role in Queensland Theatre Company’s ‘The Sunshine Club’ in 1999. He also performed in Belvoir’s ‘Yibiyung‘ in 2008 and 2009’s ‘The Man from Mukinupin’, Sydney Theatre Company’s ‘Bloodland‘ in 2012, Queensland Theatre Company’s ‘Mother Courage‘ in 2013 andÂ ‘Black Diggers’ in 2014, as well as ‘Country Song’ at QPAC in 2005. His film acting roles included playing Kenny in Warwick Thornton’s 2009 short film ‘Green Bush’ and a hilarious turn as drag queen Regina in Richard Frankland’s comedy, ‘Stone Bros‘ in 2015
As a composer, David’s last works were brother Stephen’s film ‘Spear‘, showing earlier this year and the forthcoming national tour of ‘Nyapanyapa‘, Stephen’s episode in the three-part ‘Our Land People Stories‘, which tells the story of internationally acclaimed visual artist Nyapanyapa Yunupingu from North East Arnhemland. This piece draws inspiration from her life story and paintings. It opens at the Sydney Opera House on 17th June.
The Page Family would like to invite you to attend a public ceremony to honour one of Australia’s most talented creative artists, to be held in Brisbane. The incredible legacy of Roy David Page will be celebrated at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre’s Concert Hall in his hometown of Brisbane on Monday 9 May at 11am.Â