It’s only one month into the Sydney Dance Company’s Pre-Professional Year (PPY) 2019, and this batch of dancers/artists are chomping at the bit to challenge themselves, explore their creative ideas and learn from some of the best in the industry, as well as one another.
In this year’s bevy of 28 dancers hailing from all corners of Australia and New Zealand, Dance Informa spoke to three budding artists who gave us a personal and unfiltered view of their story and experience so far as the 2019 program becomes a reality.
Siobhan Lynch (Sydney, NSW)
“Apart from dance, my other interest and passion is musical theatre; I’m a music theatre geek, anything that’s singing, acting or dancing wise. Les Misérables is one of my favourites, and I listen to the Les Mis soundtrack every week. I’m also interested in ancient history, so I love watching a doco on ancient history and ancient societies rather than watching TV.
I’m Sydney-based. I graduated from year 12, so this is my first year of full-time dance, and I made the PPY decision between following this career path or a singing career path. The PPY course had the appeal of being convenient to where I live so I can stay in my home environment a bit longer.
The exposure to different artists’ choreography is what really drew me to the course and also the idea that not everyone is moulded into the same thing. We’re able to be who we want to be and be different. You’re not just learning to be a dancer.
I’m most excited about how we learn from everyone in the group. In this industry, you typically go through as an individual and don’t get a lot of time to learn from each other, physically and emotionally. But already, just by looking at someone doing their improvisation, I feel like I’ve learnt so much about how the body can move and the different ways of expressing oneself. So I’m excited to learn from everyone here. I think we’re learning to understand the world and basic life skills.
I’m most nervous about the flip side of learning from others — when you beat yourself up and start comparing yourself to other people. I’m nervous about losing my sense of self-worth and confidence in myself. I want to make sure that I’m still my own person, an individual, and keep sight of that.”
Opal Russell (Kiama, NSW)
“I’m an amateur filmmaker, and I’ve created a ‘dance art’ film, but I make them because I like making them, so whatever comes to my brain. I really like the way film and dance go together. My favourite poet is W.B Yeats. I loved studying him at school, and now I find and buy his books and read his poetry and reflections and lectures on his poetry.
My end goal is not just to be a dancer but an artist. To study movement, not just to move but to always question what I’m doing. This program pulls away that first layer following our years of dance training – now it’s movement at a deeper level. It’s opened up questions about what I actually want out of this.
I auditioned for the course because of the way it functions in that you get to work with a different artist each week, which is different to other courses where you might study technique over an extended period. With this course, you’re constantly introduced to new artists who work in the industry. It exposes you not just to different techniques but also to different mindsets so you see things through different artists’ lenses. It opens up what dance can be — the different genres that dancers can be involved in, a myriad of perspectives. PPY has also supported me with a scholarship, so I’m really, really lucky to be here.
I’m excited about when we begin making work for the end-of-year graduation. The artists who come and lead us through their creative process, up to the development of the choreography, seeing how they mould together the work we have done in class with the choreographic element and how it’s used. And they’ll have their own way of how they want it to be performed, so we’ll learn performance quality as well. That’s what I’m most excited about.
I’m not really nervous about anything, and this course helps, because this is all that exists at this moment. I don’t think there’s anything really I’m nervous about. I try not to think about the future. Your brain becomes a sponge when you’re present in the moment.”
Olivia Hadley (Gold Coast QLD)
“I like to read a lot of books about science and religion; my interest is more in line not just with anatomical science but the natural world and how it works.
The last place I trained was at the Bundaberg Dance Academy, and they suggested that I submit an application for PPY and I sent a video. You send a contemporary piece you’ve been working on. If you pass the video audition, you come down to Sydney and audition in person. And they contacted me, and I came down and auditioned here at the SDC Studios.
The reason why I auditioned for this program was based on what I had heard about the course and how it applies to emerging dancers and how it can help you make connections and develop different skills.
It allows us to question things and the PPY team is very supportive with the process, so that you don’t get overwhelmed or alarmed. You can be vulnerable as well. Being an artist involves a lot of vulnerability, so we’re learning to be vulnerable in a safe space, and we’re learning to be vulnerable in a group.
After only two weeks, everyone seems to have come so close in terms of physical closeness and emotional closeness, and this is only the third week, but it feels like we’ve been here for a long time. I’m most looking forward to the process of creating and experimenting and improvisation choreography and where it will lead me to at the end of the year. I’ve already developed so much spatial, body and even philosophical awareness, and not just in dance.
I feel like I’ve observed so much that it’s been brought into my daily life — in the way I view the world and the people around me. I’m really looking forward to seeing how my mind will broaden more throughout the progamme. The amount of inspiration we have had already is hard to articulate in words; but it’s the feeling of being in a group where we experience the same inspirations, the same movement patterns.
If I thought about nervousness before starting, I think I would have been nervous about a lot of things, like choreographer’s block or not being able to create something new and different, but I don’t think that’s going to be a barrier anymore, and I’m completely willing to accept the process because that helps you develop more as a dancer.”
During the first three weeks, the PPY class of 2019 has already been exposed to a number of different artists, along with a variety of techniques.
Omer Backley-Astrachan, who assists Linda Gamblin with the PPY program, settled them in and led them through different improvisation tasks, as well as talking about philosophy. “Getting us to open our minds as to why we are in this room, and letting go of judgement, not just about ourselves but about other people,” Olivia describes.
They worked with Dean Walsh on exploring improvisation. Walsh comes from a Marine Biology background and uses environmental research in his improvisation to promote environmental awareness. With Walsh, the dancers explored different modalities — the primary ones being descending and ascending, getting up and down from the floor, moving with blindfolds and learning to trust the people around them to keep them safe.
Opal explains what they call modalities. “Modalities are different tasks or qualities you focus on when creating movement — for example, movement where you focus on pauses or different qualities you think about for a particular improvisation.” Siobhan adds, “They’re like modes of music where you play in different keys.”
With Richard Cilli, they discovered Counter Technique, a dance technique developed by Anouk van Dijk. Their third week included exploring contact improvisation with Alejandro Rolandi and Lee-Anne Litton. Rolling around on the floor with some giggles and uncertainty, learning techniques to maintain contact with their partner while moving across the floor.
And so the journey continues, learning about the world through the practise of dance.
By Elizabeth Ashley of Dance Informa.