Hunter Page-Lochard made his first appearance for Bangarra Dance Theatre in Praying Mantis Dreaming at six months of age, when his father Stephen Page, the company’s artistic director, played a bit of a trick at one performance by substituting him for the baby doll usually used.
“The story was that he comes on stage and hands me to another dancer and the light fades on them. He didn’t tell the other dancer and apparently as the lights were fading I reached my hand up to touch his face so it got a real reaction,” says Page-Lochard.
Now 20, Page-Lochard is making a guest appearance in Bangarra’s new work Blak. In the interim he has appeared in their productions of Skin at age seven and Boomerang at age 12.
His professional career began in an episode of Water Rats when he was five. “Ever since then I’ve loved performing,” he says.
His other credits include, among others, Bloodland for Sydney Theatre Company, Wayne Blair’s award-winning short film The Djarn Djarns, and the feature films Bran Nue Day and The Sapphires.
Later this year he will seen in a new film called Around the Block by writer/director Sarah Spillane in which he stars alongside Christina Ricci and Jack Thompson, playing a troubled Aboriginal teenager who is helped by his American drama teacher.
“It’s like a Billy Elliot (meets) Hamlet but instead of dancing he’s a drama student that has one foot in crime because of his older brother,” says Page-Lochard. “It’s a nice little film. It’s not too dark and it’s not too fun-loving.”
Page-Lochard grew up “with the smell of theatre backstage. I was always around it,” he says.
Like his father, his American mother, Cynthia Lochard, was also a dancer, performing with New York City Ballet and Sydney Dance Company and is now one of the leading Pilates instructors in the southern hemisphere. But despite his heritage, Page-Lochard acts more than he dances.
“Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake are my teachers. I never had technical training. Mum and Dad tried and tried to get me into ballet classes when I was little and dance classes but I just didn’t want to dance. I wanted to act and create things,” he says.
“So being with these guys (Bangarra) for the last four months has been quite tough because I’ve had to do ballet and I’ve had to do contemporary. I can’t deny that it’s in my blood but it’s still really tough. I’m sure my mum can still do a better arabesque than I can.”
Blak has three sections: Scar, choreographed by Daniel Riley McKinley with the male dancers, which explores young men’s rite of passage to manhood and initiation from an urban perspective; Yearning, choreographed by Page with the female dancers, which explores domestic violence, youth suicide and the connection of the female spirit to the land; and finally Keepers in which the dancers pay homage to the land and the legacy of their elders.
The company spent a week and a half on Bremer Island in North East Arnhem Land before the start of rehearsals where they workshopped ideas.
“The girls went off and did some women’s business like weaving and the boys took the time to get together and (discuss) just normal questions – what is a man to you? What is your version of initiation in the modern world? Is it sharing a beer with your Dad for the first time? Or having sex? It’s a lot different to the traditional males (initiation) up there,” says Page-Lochard.
Page-Lochard, who is featured in Scar, says that his character embodies the six other men. “He is their flaws and traits. He makes up all of them and carries them through whenever they need to be carried. He’s always there. In a sense he’s kind of that spirit character who was in Skin and Boomerang.”
“I definitely want to make a film,” he says. “I have just as many (creative) visions as Dad does but not for the stage – it’s more film.”
Blak, Sydney Opera House, June 7 – 22; Canberra Theatre Centre, July 11 – 13; Queensland Performing Arts Centre, July 18 – 27.
An edited version of this story appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on June 2.