Presented by Ausdance Victoria and Youth Dance Australia
July 10 and 11 (two different gala programs)
Meat Market, North Melbourne
The Australian Youth Dance Festival (AYDF) 2019 is the tenth of such gatherings bringing together youth dance practitioners from around Australia. This year they were joined by companies from England, Demark, Finland and Scotland, making this the first international forum.
The week included a Think Tank for youth dance leaders and an Industry Forum. The Youth Dance Program consisted of energetic “Dance” sessions, “Develop” sessions to kick start new skills, and “Make” sessions to engage with youth-focused choreographic practice. Youth Forums, hosted by Youth Ambassadors, offered an opportunity to discuss how an experience of dance impacts on a person's experience of the world and about the value of dance in an increasingly digital world. The companies involved in the international exchange program shared choreographic outcomes, while the two gala performances represented recent company repertoire.
Mature in conception, yet varied in focus, most youth dance companies are still often asked to define their practice. Unanimously they will state that they are not just young people dancing, not private dance studios and not competitive groups. Youth dance companies are a structure through which young people are acknowledged as dance makers, building pieces which challenge audiences and interrogate popular narratives. The young people and their audiences are encouraged to be critical and reflective thinkers.
Central to the works presented is that each has been created collaboratively. As the festival's Artistic Director, Alice Lee Holland, states: “Rather than learning and rehearsing dance steps taught by the choreographer, the young dancers who perform the work have made significant contribution to its creation, alongside and with the support of professional dance artists.”
Austinmer Dance Theatre from the NSW south coast is one of the only single gender groups at AYDF. En Trance shows each performer’s deep insecurities in social situations. The focus of the movement is very frontal, directly addressing the audience with emotional gestures and vocals.
Stompin, from Launceston in Tasmania, is a mixed group ranging in ages but displaying strength at all levels. They presented NowHere, originally devised to be presented as a sight specific work in the middle of kanamaluka/Tamar River. This version for the Melbourne venue used film footage of the original dancework to translate the stories of the area’s Indigenous heritage, present day anecdotes and fragile ecology to the stage.
Wagana and DUST Youth Dancers hail from the Blue Mountains in NSW and presented Consider the Possibilities. This work, employing both contemporary and traditional Indigenous movement languages, addresses the need to care for Country. Traditional tools are manipulated to represent ancient relationships, while fabric stretched between dancers serves as a blindfold and ultimately a noose.
Rutherford Dance Company Youth from Birmingham in England presented IMMI. Based on current political tensions around immigration and Brexit, the dancers travel across the stage in waves. One dancer in costume reminiscent of a flag is manipulated and elevated by others only to eventually fall limp in the centre.
Skin II, by The Presence Project from Singapore, is a solo. Reaching, rolling and swirling, the dancer shifts focus from the audience to images of clouds and liquid projected on the cyclorama. Pressure seems to come from both within and without as the percussion in the soundscore accompanies increasing bodily distortion.
Naturally Man-Made, by QL2 from the ACT, draws inspiration from the grand staircase of the Nishi Building in Canberra, and explores lines, texture, space and functionality. This seemingly simple concept becomes a complex work when the timber structures come alive through bodies and projections showing intimacy in the construction of patterns and angles.
The Flipside Project hails from Newcastle and presented Fragile Terrain, inspired by Greta Thunberg’s UN speech. In angular unison the dancers break into smaller groups, contrasting high and low versions of an overarching phrase. In almost military style, they project toward a single point with building intensity.
Static Equilibrium was performed by Dansebryggeriet (Stands&Dans) from Denmark, in collaboration with Hurja Piruetti Western Uusimaa Dance Institute in Finland. It evolved from a series of duo and ensemble improvisations exploring proximity. Live looped vocals support the movement, describing both connection and repulsion.
From Melbourne, Yellow Wheel, began their presentation, Tide, by inviting older members of the audience onto the stage to stand at the feet of the prone dancers. Slowly the volunteers are left standing alone, as much a focus as the dancers. Breaking this intensity, the younger group begin moving to their own beat and the phrases become increasingly celebratory as the young people express their own identities.
Origins, from Melbourne, performed Windthrow. Acentral point is the focus as the group explores different ways the body can initiate momentum, build energy and work within circular pathways.
With strong commitment to their piece, the dancers of Fling Physical Theatre from Bega, NSW, create simple angled shapes and change directions in small groups. Called Shifting, the workexplores the constant shaping and reshaping of formations and changing pathways as a metaphor for managing our experiences.
The final group of both evenings was Ydance (Scottish Youth Dance), the National Youth Dance Company of Scotland, which is based in Glasgow. Their presentation, For Those Who Wait, highlights the level to which this strong ensemble can work with complex unison group work, challenging duos and floor sequences. In the course of this piece individuals come forward to wait. Their stillness and its impact on the rest of the group is palpable. This work, like the whole festival, is truly a celebration of the joy of movement.
- LESLEY GRAHAM