This week sees close to 700 secondary school students from the ACT and surrounds take to the Canberra Theatre Centre stage over two nights as part of Ausdance ACT’s 2023 Youth Dance Festival 'Bread & Circuses’. Now in its 39th year, Youth Dance Festival is a remarkable Canberra success story. Having been a long-term feature on the Canberra arts and education calendar since 1985 ‘Dance Fest’ now boasts a proud alumnus of over 45,000 students.
This year’s theme of ‘Bread and Circuses’ comes as a provocation from Ausdance ACT Director Dr Cathy Adamek: Is dance an entertainment, just a pretty distraction and display of physical feats OR can art and dance be a powerful vehicle for social change? OR can it be both?
From a historical perspective, the saying ‘Bread and Circuses’ comes to us from the Roman Empire used by critics to describe state leaders producing abundant cheap food and entertainment to keep the population distracted from wars and a crumbling empire. But as Dr Cathy Adamek says, “We live in interesting times…. the theme is intended as a way of engaging young people with the social and political commentary of today as well as questioning their own views of what dance can be.”
Youth Dance Festival encourages a student led approach to dance making, choreography, theatre and film making and provides a shared artistic experience. While local professional artists are engaged as mentors for each school, the creative concept and choreography behind each 3-5 minute dance piece is driven by the students themselves and the opportunity to participate is open to secondary school students (Years 7-12) from a wide range of backgrounds.
Dr Cathy Adamek highlights the non-competitive nature of this festival, saying, “It’s about coming together, with an emphasis on the accessibility and inclusivity of the whole experience. We have a lot of students that go on to careers in dance but there’s also a lot of people for whom this is their first experience of live performance. Aside from dancing and choreographing there are also opportunities for students to gain work experience backstage in areas like lighting, sound and costume.”
This year in addition to the ACT schools participating ACT Ausdance have extended their invitation to schools beyond the ACT border but still located geographically close to Canberra and the ACT. These include Monaro High School (Cooma), Karabar High School (Queanbeyan) Trinity Catholic College Goulburn and the brand-new Jerrambomberra High School. With their 40th anniversary coming up in 2024, it seems Ausdance ACT’s Youth Dance Festival has a big, bright future ahead.