Since 1997, the Australian Youth Dance Festival (AYDF) has provided an opportunity for the voice of youth artists to be gathered together, nurtured, shared and celebrated. In South Australia for the first time, Renmark played host to ninety-five youth participants from ages fifteen to twenty-six, from 10 – 16 April. Attendees represented the diversity of Australian youth dance, including participants from QL2 Dance (ACT); Sprung Integrated Dance Theatre (NSW); ADT Youth Ensemble (SA): DanceDown (SA); Renmark Dance Academy (SA); Restless Dance Theatre (SA); Riverland Special Shool (SA); Riverland Youth Theatre ’s Nunga Rythms (SA); Yellowwheel (VIC); All Saints’ College (WA) and John Curtin College of the Arts (WA). I was also there to observe the final days of AYDF 2014, which was partially supported through the Dance Section’s Artform Development grant.
Under the constant vigilance of Ausdance staff, tutors, group leaders and St John’s ambulance volunteers, AYDF attendees took part in a range of activities. Over the course of the week, these activities included a daily morning warm-up (featuring ‘daggy dancing’) led by Artistic Director Adam Wheeler; contemporary technique classes; a choreographic masterclass led by Kristina Chan, Hsin-Ju Chiu and Tim Ohl on Lisa Wilson’s work Lake; workshops in improvisation, partnering, tumbling and dance creation; showings of live and dance film works; a performance showcase and rehearsals. Carclew, a South Australian organisation dedicated to supporting youth arts, also hosted a professional development workshop. The showcase was noted as a highlight by participants, who gained a sense of accomplishment and an opportunity to honour the diversity of practice in a non-competitive environment.
Celebrated and established contemporary artists Katrina Lazaroff, Larissa McGowan, Kialea Nadine-Williams, Frankie Snowdon and Sani Townson were the tutors for technique classes. The division of youth between classes was democratic and inclusive: there were no ‘levels’ and participants rotated through the full roster of tutors. Tutor Larissa McGowan observed the positive impact this approach had: ‘the nicest thing to see was the integration of different dancers from disparate locations. You see people come together and assist each other in their learning. It’s satisfying as a choreographer and teacher to see the buddying up of participants and how they value the array of quality, techniques and emotional abilities on display. The technically stronger dancers have recognised the feelings and emotions that don’t come from a learned action, (with participants) appreciating what they each bring.’
Alongside the overarching goal to nurture and celebrate the diversity of youth dance, a rare insight was provided into the life of an independent professional dancer: of particular value to those considering a dance career. To encourage active learning, tutor Katrina Lazaroff referred to ‘the need in class to be present in the moment, much like in a professional audition’, embedding a greater sense of personal investment into the experience. For Katrina, the focus of her classes was: ‘…on supporting individual learning and creating a positive headspace for all participants; encouraging the recognition of personal learning processes so that they (participants) know how to ask the right questions in the moment.’ While classes ranged in technical difficulty, Katrina emphasised the importance of ‘providing time to allow for reflection and questions to be asked’, imparting the knowledge that strong technique requires a strong intellectual base.
Rehearsals during the week culminated in an AYDF trademark: a site-specific performance on the Renmark Riverbank Promenade. As Adam Wheeler gave a final motivational speech to the performers (‘there is no such thing as mistakes in live performance, just mini solos’), Ausdance National CEO Roslyn Dundas introduced an audience of Renmark locals to the work. After an initial section to Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit performed on the Riverbank, Alexander Wait Mitchell ’s score provided an evocative base for the remainder of the work, which mirrored the AYDF 2014 theme of regeneration. From stomps and undulating upper body movements, more sophisticated interactions and duets of assured partner work emerged. Artists continued to unfurl, as different groupings demonstrated the more complex choreographic sequences rehearsed during technique class. To close, the cast invited the audience to help launch paper boats down the Murray River, with each boat containing a personal or global message of change. As these boats floated away, the audience observed a final duet performed on a barge, traveling down the river as a closing symbol of hope.
At the final celebration, tutors and participants alike talked about how this experience would change their perceptions and work moving forward, with different conversations regarding future projects and engagements. Participants were quick to note what they had gained: friendships, confidence, fitness, new ways of moving… and abs. Emotions were high, reinforcing the sentiments expressed by participants in an earlier feedback session: AYDF provides a valuable opportunity for which they will be its strongest advocates.
For more information regarding the AYDF experience, click here
General Manager for QL2, Gary Barnes, has written a blog on AYDF 2014. The blog can be found here .