Ausdance NSW will present the Australian Youth Dance Festival 2012, hosted at NAISDA, Australia’s National Indigenous Dance Training Institution, situated at Mt Penang Parklands, near Gosford, NSW. The Festival will be presented during the NSW Easter school holiday period from Sunday 8 April to Saturday 14 April.
Dance to Discover is an exciting week-long dance intensive workshop which provides a unique opportunity for young people to have access to some of the finest dance experiences available in Australia. The AYDF is unique in its structure, and the way in which it allows young people to engage in creative exchange with professional dancers and choreographers, and their peers. The AYDF takes place in a supportive, non-competitive environment that encourages participation and learning. The AYDF program includes dance workshops in a wide variety of styles, choreographic activities and performances led by significant Australian professional dance artists.
Choreographic sessions throughout the week will culminate in the creation of a new site-specific dance work, Shades of Us, at Mt Penang Gardens with all participants. The Artistic Director for this work is Rowan Marchingo (NSW), whose national and international professional experience includes performing, choreographing and directing productions that range from large scale site-specific aerial works to intimate works of theatre. The team of choreographers and tutors includes; Philip Channells – Artistic Director Restless Dance Theatre, Vicki Van Hout (NSW), Kay Armstrong – Artistic Director youMove Company (NSW), Lee Pemberton – Artistic Director Fling Physical Theatre and Ingrid Kleinig – Legs on The Wall, with others to be announced.
“The Australian Youth Dance Festival is a fantastic opportunity for young people to engage with professional choreographers over five days of intensive training, creative development and performance. One of the principal aims of the festival is to broaden the experience and knowledge of dance and choreographic practice for young dancers”, says Rowan Marchingo.
Whenever I hear the cynics scoffing at the idea that art – and dance in particular – can change the world, I remember a man I once knew.
He was a client of mine; born with a disability that left him unable to speak ‘properly’ and vulnerable to all kinds of rip off merchants. The local deli owner once charged him twenty bucks for a pie. I only worked with him for six months but his smiling face stayed with me.
Roll the tape forward seven years and I’m rubbing shoulders at an opening night schmooze where performers from the Adelaide based company Restless Dance Theatre were in attendance. And there, much to my surprise was my now transformed erstwhile client. Cool, confident, clad in sleek blacks, drinking Shiraz and talking clearly.
What had happened? Dance, that’s what. This young man had been fundamentally changed by his experience as a dancer with one of the most inspiring arts organisations I have ever come across. Restless Dance had given him confidence, clarity, and even a measure of grace.
Restless Dance Theatre performs 'Beauty'
So, when I was asked to write about “dance making a difference” I thought of Restless straight away. Since 1991 they have been creating works, running workshops and touring shows with a blend of disabled and non-disabled dancers; and in the process literally transforming lives.
Current artistic director Philip Channells sums it up thus, “We often learn about humanity through listening to, watching, or reading and responding to the art that we see in our everyday lives; be it music, film, books, craft, architecture and fashion or whatever; but dance sometimes does something else.”
For Restless this ‘learning’ happens through direct participation. “When you consider the work of Restless and reflect on the changes it brings to people’s lives, it really makes me think that without it so many young people would not realise their potential because it gives people a chance to be expressive in ways that they may not have ever thought possible,” Channells explains. “It gives people a sense of place in the community, a sense of self and possibility and more importantly gives people a voice, to make their own decisions in a really exciting, nurturing and changing environment.”
But of course Restless aren’t the only ones trying to make a positive difference through dance. With projects in South Africa and regional Australia, Mayibuye works with disadvantaged youth from a range of ethnic and socio-cultural backgrounds, using dance as a means to direct them away from gang culture and crime, and towards cross cultural understanding.
Mayibuye share dance with children in South Africa
Co-founder and CEO Kumari Middleton understands that there are many who would raise an eyebrow or two at such a ‘noble’ sentiment. She is very clear in her response, “Dance creates a common ground between participants and encourages team work and unity. Creativity allows people to have a voice and tell their story … Performing allows them to feel a part of a larger community – one of humanity. It allows the youth to show their collective talent to friends and family and boost their confidence and sense of acceptance.”
Elsewhere, twenty-five year old Toronto based dancer/producer Vanessa Young reflects Middleton’s belief, saying succinctly, “Each small project creates big change.”
In 2010 Young spearheaded a Brisbane based project called Fearless, a huge 100 dancer ensemble show that not only showcased the city’s eclectic dance culture but shone the light on domestic violence issues.
“A lot of people get overwhelmed,” she observes. “They think they don’t have enough money or enough time but there are a lot of ways you can get involved. So, with the dancers it was like, ‘you already do this, people already pay to see you perform, so why not just do it for a great cause?’.”
It was a huge production effort for her, not the least because she was living thousands of miles from home in a foreign city. Her passion for the project simply underscores the point that artists can do much more than merely show off. “If you’re a psychologist or you’re a builder, there are a lot of ways you can donate your time and help out charities,” she explains, “but people in the arts sometimes forget that what we do isn’t necessarily for us. We perform for audiences. We create pieces that benefit the culture of our communities. So, Fearless was really about reminding young dancers that you can.”
Kumari Middleton picks up the thread. “It is difficult to help people to understand how arts can change people’s lives for the better if they have never been involved or interested in the arts before,” she points out. “However, we see every day the changes in young people. Having them bounce into the room with big smiles on their faces and ready to learn, despite the hardships they are facing, is really special.”
Back in Adelaide Philip Channells recounts the story of Dan Daw, a young man from the small town of Whyalla who lives with cerebral palsy but has gone on to become an internationally renowned performer who now lives and works in London with Candoco Dance Company. It’s typical of the Restless recipe; seeing past disability and bringing out underlying talent.
“Once people see our work I think they say, ‘oh, Restless, they’re an amazing dance company’ and the whole disabled thing becomes irrelevant,” Channells concludes. Indeed, with a new work called Take Me There that premiered at the Come Out Youth Festival in March, Restless are simply going about the business of being a hard working dance company.
Whether it’s Mayibuye working with impoverished teens in KwaZulu-Natal or Vanessa Young creating vibrant projects in her native Canada or distant Australian cities, dance continues to give back to the world; not simply as a form of entertainment but as a literal means of physical and life change.
As Kumari Middleton passionately observes, “dance teaches people about team work and respect, to think creatively and express themselves. It can break down gender inequality and teach people to support each other. It also requires people to look after their bodies and make healthy decisions.”
Dancers with and without disability share their beauty. An interview with Philip Channells of Restless Dance Theatre.
By Grace Edwards.
Fresh from winning ‘Best Work’ at the Reeldance Australia and New Zealand Awards 2010, Restless Dance Theatre will present the world premiere of its latest work Beauty in July.
But Restless is no ordinary dance company. As Australia’s leading mixed-ability dance theatre, Restless works to inspire both disabled and able-bodied people within the community to embrace dance as an alternative mode of expression.
Beauty marks the touring company’s first production since the appointment of Artistic Director, Philip Channells, in 2009. Philip, now the first artistic director of an Australian dance company with a disability, trained at the Northern Rivers Conservatorium of Arts, the Centre for the Performing Arts (AC Arts) and at the Western Australian Academy of the Performing Arts (WAAPA).
He has toured to France with Link Dance Company performing works by Chrissie Parrot, Phillip Adams, Anna Smith, and Kim McCarthy, and also spent seven years working with Restless as a dancer, workshop leader and assistant director, before moving to the UK. But now he’s back.
Artistic Director Philip Channells
Dance Informa’s Grace Edwards speaks to Philip about Beauty, Restless and what it takes to make it as a disabled dance artist.
Philip, you joined Restless Dance Theatre as director in 2009, relocating to Adelaide from London. What attracted you to the company? I moved back from London in May last year, but actually, I joined Restless as a youth ensemble dancer back in 1999, when I first moved to Adelaide from Lismore. I first studied dance at the Conservatorium of Arts (The Con), which is where I met Kat Worth, who founded an integrated dance company called CHAOS.
Kat invited the founding Artistic Director of Restless, Sally Chance, to make a work with the company, and I was impressed by her approach to working with people with and without a disability, her skill at communicating her ideas and the quality of the work we created in such a short time frame. Sally showed a work created by Restless called The Flight to CHAOS, that she co-directed with London-based director Liam Steele (Stan Won’t Dance). There was something about that work that resonated within me. I think it was a major factor in turning my career. I moved to Adelaide and continued training at the Centre for the Performing Arts knowing where I wanted to go and what I needed to do to get there.
There’s something distinctive about Restless Dance Theatre; it’s about disabled and non-disabled people working together to make unexpectedly real dance theatre.
Restless’s upcoming work, Beauty, choreographed by the company’s former Artistic Director Ingrid Voorendt, investigates notions of beauty, particularly in response to representations of the female body, visual art, classical sculpture and baroque music.
Do you feel there is such a thing as beauty, or is it truly in the eye of the beholder? How do the art forms with which Beauty engages inform your own perspective? I think beauty is really personal. Physical beauty is superficial, but I’m still attracted to beautiful things, beautiful sounds, beautiful surroundings, images and poetry. I love the theatricality of this new work, the way it borrows from a classical period where women used to walk around draped in wet cloth and talcum powder. I think vanity was the cause of many a death around that time.
Does being a disabled artist yourself affect the way you interpret the essence of Beauty as Artistic Director? I don’t think so. My disability doesn’t factor into the equation at all and is not really something that affects this new work. Beauty was something I inherited from Ingrid’s program. I think the essence is about celebrating diversity and appreciating difference.
What is it like in the rehearsal studio at the moment? The touring company resumes rehearsals from June 7th right through to the world premiere on July 2nd. It’s been an interesting time for us with creating a buzz about a work that is still very much in development, although there was a first stage development in August last year. So at the moment the youth ensemble, one of the three areas of activity at Restless, trains once a week. We’re working on developing ideas for a new production called Next of Kin, which is the second major work for the year. In a way, we’re working on developing two works side by side.
Beauty is presented by the professional touring arm of the company, but as you mentioned, RDT also runs an education programme and a youth ensemble for dancers aged 15-26. What are the aims of these programmes and how do they engage with the community? The education work is the invisible side of the company. It gives people a sense of belonging to a place where they grow emotionally and feel strong within themselves. Our programs are about providing pathways for people to develop a sense of individuality in a safe and supportive environment. It’s also a place where young people find their voice. Even if they are non-verbal, dance is an opportunity for people to be expressive in a physical way.
What particular challenges does Restless face in accommodating its performers and, to an extent, its audience? Restless works with disabled and non-disabled artists so we have to be respectful of each other’s needs, but essentially the dancers have a job to do and they get on with it just like any other performers.
When we create work, we try to think about how audiences can access our work, so we’re mindful of people with learning, sensory and mobility impairment. It makes the creative process more interesting when we’re challenged to find alternative ways to invite audiences with hearing or visual impairment to experience our work with, for example, Auslan interpretation or captioning. I think digital technology helps us to achieve this, and access is something that we try to build into the design of the space.
All dancers face massive hurdles in establishing a professional dance career, but as a disabled dancer, the challenges are surely even greater. How did you find your footing in the dance world, and what do you think the dance community could do to help support disabled dance artists? I started dancing when I was 28, a year after I had a car accident in Thora valley, NSW. The accident was 10 days before my audition at The Con in Lismore, so I was disappointed, but I think that made me even more determined to work hard to get back on track. I had a tough time starting my training so late, but I had life experience to bring to my work that a lot of my younger colleagues found difficult to appreciate. Opportunities to access dance training in Australia are far less than what is offered to young and emerging disabled dancers in places like the UK.
I think we have a lot to gain from thinking hard about how we can make a national dance curriculum be inclusive for everyone and about what we put in place to make sure people with a disability can achieve a career in the arts. Most of my friends in the UK are disabled dancers – it just seems odd to me that there is such a divide across the Atlantic. I think it’s about changing attitudes really; guess what?…..disabled people do dance! I think we learn a lot about ourselves from dancing, and even if it’s only recreational, it is still valid. I think it’s essential. Dance allows people from all ages and backgrounds opportunities to find their own unique way of expression.
What have you learned over the duration of your career about what it takes to be a dancer? Hard work, self-reflection, determination and a keen interest to go beyond your wildest dreams. I think I knew at an early stage that I wanted an international career. Personally, I needed to work in an area of dance that was less about satisfying my ego and more about having some integrity in what I did.
Tickets for Beauty start at $10 (for group bookings) through to $25 and can be purchased at the Adelaide Festival Centre via www.bass.net.au or by calling BASS on 131 246.