Bay 20, Carriageworks, 21 November
Having reviewed NAISDA’s graduation performances for several years now, I have come to expect the school to put on a good show, and this year was no different. What was new this year was a much higher standard of production, especially the integrated use of lighting, projections and costume to give each work the right look and feel. Ngoenakap looked less like a graduation performance designed to showcase the students’ abilities, and more like a professional production with a great sense of coherence in the selection of dance works performed. Credit must go here to director Sani Townson and the sizeable production team he led, and also to performance sponsor Audio Visual Events, whose contribution was acknowledged in the printed program with a full-page advertisement.
As usual, the evening began with a Welcome to Country – in this instance given by Uncle Allen Madden with genuine warmth and humour – almost a mini-performance in itself. And the first act was well balanced, with traditional Torres Strait Islander dances alternating with some more contemporary works. These works were choreographed by a range of choreographers, from director Sani Townson, to Dujon Niue, Deon Hastie, Pamela Williams, graduating student Kiarn Doyle and contributions from the cast members themselves. It was really interesting to see the dancers moving back and forth between the more traditional and contemporary styles, rather than presenting them as separate and distinct "chunks" in the program. Sitting in the audience, it gave one a sense of how such different styles might inform and influence each other, and of the rich diversity of movement styles to which NAISDA students are exposed during the course of their training.
There was even a little comedy in the time-constrained crossover between two works; graduating student Chandler Connell engaged in some humorous dialogue with one of the live musicians (and cultural tutors) Norah Bagiri, as well as calling out to director Sani Townson – who was at that point sitting in the audience! Incidentally, I recall Chandler Connell giving a refreshingly informal introduction to the NAISDA graduation show in 2017, his first year there. One of the benefits of following the students at NAISDA is that, due to their smaller class sizes, you get a sense of each dancer as an individual; as well as the opportunity each year to see the first-year students moving up in seniority and growing in confidence over the three years it takes to graduate with a diploma.
The second act tended towards more contemporary works, with pieces like Unicorn (choreographed by Janaya Lamb, Jannali Johnston and Sani Townson) and Garkaziu (choreographed by Sani Townson) standing out as particularly memorable. Amongst the graduating students I would like to single out Kiara Wilson, Edan Porter, Jarryd Dixon, and David Biondo-Odo as showing particular promise.
"Ngoenakap" means ‘heart’ in Townson’s Torres Strait Islander language of Kala Lagaw Ya, and this production certainly had plenty of heart, polish, sass and style. A shame it had a fairly limited run (four nights) and more audiences won’t get to see and enjoy it.
- GERALDINE HIGGINSON
Pictured top: Kiarn Doyle. Photo: Jamie James.