In what must surely be a first in this country, one of the nation’s premier contemporary dance companies has teamed up with a specialist performing arts school to create a brand new pathway for Year 10-12 students. Indeed, the recently announced collaboration between Sydney Dance Company (SDC) and The McDonald College has both participants excited about the opportunity that such a unique joint project offers.
As Maxine Kohler, Principal of The McDonald College, observes, “It will very different from our existing dance-based streams because it is written by Sydney Dance, and it is tailored toward high intensity training.”
The Senior Contemporary Dance Program will be open to students from Year 10 onward and is designed to allow candidates to audition (upon completion) for SDC’s Pre-Professional Year intake. With its three core disciplines of technique, creativity and performance, it represents a tailored, contemporary dance-focused stream that also allows students time and space to complete their more formal, academic studies.
“Kids are leaving school early to go into full time training, whether that be Queensland Ballet or The Australian Ballet, and normally that would be around those key ages of 14, 15, 16,” Kohler explains. “But when they leave school prematurely, then they’re at a disadvantage in one respect because they have to do their training and do their academic via distance education in their own time. So it adds a lot to their plate and that’s where we saw the opportunity.”
For parents and students alike, the fact that the “bigger picture” has been factored into the development of the program will surely make it a win-win option. Although this kind of real world pragmatism has always been a central part of McDonald College’s ethos, it is also something that SDC took on board when writing the course. Indeed, as the head of training for the company’s Pre-Professional Year, Linda Gamblin, insists, the new high school stream is not about star spotting or a narrowly “elite” mentality. Rather, it seeks to develop the “whole person” through high intensity, targeted training.
“That’s why we love the idea of working with a quality school like McDonald College,” she declares, “because you still have your academic studies along with the creative; and actually I think this will enhance their studies. The vision is that their creative study does enhance their maths and their English, and gives them a more open mind to discuss things, academically but also in society, so that they can speak and have a voice.”
However, the Senior Contemporary Dance Program is also about creating a point of difference for aspiring dance artists. “So, it’s not classical and it’s not commercial contemporary; it’s more looking at the contemporary mind and collaborating in that environment with highly sophisticated technical skills and creativity,” Gamblin reveals.
The upshot for those students wishing to audition for the course come September is that they will do their bookwork in the mornings and be with SDC in the afternoons. In addition, they will also have access to SDC rehearsals and workshops, as well as other extra-curricular opportunities to get up close and personal with one of Australia’s best loved dance companies.
What’s more, the McDonald/SDC alliance means that Sydney- and NSW-based students will not have to leave home to get high quality, industry-based training. According to Kohler, “Hopefully we can keep the local students in Sydney, because they’re going off everywhere. You know, they’re going overseas even at 14 or 15, and they’re so young and a lot of them aren’t ready. So we want to try and keep them here in New South Wales and nurture their skills, both PA [performing arts] and academic, so that they’re fully equipped when they graduate for going out into the world.”
As to whether kids as young as 15 might be “ready” for the high-concept and often abstract world of contemporary dance, SDC’s Gamblin is emphatic. “I find the younger the better,” she declares. “They really seem to love the opportunity to use their physical technique and ideas to do something different, to create spectacular movement.”
Having worked behind the scenes to finesse the program, both the school and the dance company are ready for their first intake. Auditions are slated for late September for a projected 2019 course start.
“I don’t believe anyone else in New South Wales is offering something like this at the moment,” Kohler concludes. “You know, the opportunity to get that really high level performing arts training while they’re still at school; so they can actually graduate and have both.”
For more information on The McDonald College’s Senior Contemporary Dance Program, in association with Sydney Dance Company, visit www.mcdonald.nsw.edu.au/programs/senior-contemporary-dance-program.
By Paul Ransom of Dance Informa.