Two young indigenous dancers from New South Wales are set to enjoy a year of invaluable professional performance experience and training with Bangarra Dance Theatre thanks to the Company’s Russell Page Graduate Program.

Ryan Pearson and Baden Hitchcock have joined the Company for 2017 during which time they will perform in Bennelong, the latest work by Bangarra Artistic Director Stephen Page, which has its world premiere at the Sydney Opera House in June. The duo will then join the Company when they travel back to Country in the Torres Strait Island in August. They will also take part in a major international tour to Germany in October, before returning to Sydney to perform in Ones Country – The Spine of Our Stories, a new triple bill of works by Djakapurra Munyarryun, Elma Kris, and Nicola Sabatino and Kaine Sultan-Babij, directed by Page.

Ryan Pearson. Photograph © Tiffany Parker

Initiated in 2014, the Russell Page Graduate Program is named after the late Russell Page, who was a founding member of Bangarra with his brothers Stephen and David, and one of its most revered dancers. He passed away in 2002. The Program offers recently graduated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dancers training, development, touring and performance opportunities to evolve into professional artists alongside the Company’s choreographers, creatives and core dancers.

“Russell would be so proud to know that we are able to honour him in this year,” said Stephen Page in 2015. “He was passionate about passing down knowledge and sharing his skills with the younger dancers in the Company, and I see our senior dancers doing the same now.”

Previous participants Yolanda Lowatta, Glory Tuohy-Daniell and Tyrel Dulvarie are now full-time members of Bangarra. The employment of Pearson and Hitchcock in 2017 was made possible by the generosity of a group of philanthropists who contributed more than $60,000, securing a matched funding grant of $50,000 from the Sherry-Hogan Foundation.

Pearson is a Biripi, Minang, Bulang and Baladgung man born and raised in Taree. He began his dance training at NAISDA (The National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association) at age 16 after being inspired by his participation in Bangarra’s Youth Program Team in 2012. One of his training highlights was attending a six-week Profession Division Summer Intensive at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre in New York.

Baden Hitchcock. Photograph © Tiffany Parker

Hitchcock’s family is from Saibai, an island of the Torres Strait. He was a member of the contemporary and classical ballet companies at Newtown High School of the Performing Arts, then undertook a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Contemporary Dance at the Victorian College of the Arts. In 2016, he worked with Russell Dumas as part of a collection called Dance Exchange and was also invited to attend the Time Space Place Choreographic Laboratory. He was a participant of the Indigenous Residency at Arts House, Dance Massive and most recently created a work with Public Art Melbourne.

Page said that the Graduate Program is of critical importance to the evolution of Bangarra, because it ensures the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists are nurtured by current artists excelling in their craft.

“As the only Major Performing Arts company in Australia with its cultural origins in this land, we have a duty to pass our knowledge onto the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander artists,” said Page.

“My brothers, Russell and David, and I were always connected through a shared desire to support new talent, which is what the Graduate Program is all about. Watching young artists emerge and mature and observing the mentoring process in the studio is beyond rewarding for all of us at Bangarra.”