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Community and connection: VDF Artistic Director Yvette Lee

Yvette Lee. Photo by Elly Ford.
Yvette Lee. Photo by Elly Ford.

The Victorian Dance Festival (VDF) is one event we’re always excited for, and Energetiks VDF 2020 is no exception. A weekend of masterclasses, performances, networking and making friends, VDF is an integral part of the Australian dance calendar and an event that every dancer should be able to experience. We caught up with VDF’s Artistic Director Yvette Lee to talk all things festival-related and why VDF 2020 is going to be bigger and better than ever.

What do you think is so special about VDF?

“VDF has been and always will be a community event. We’re getting together to share our common love. Every day we dance, whether we dance at a full time school, or a local school, or we dance alone in the studio, we all love it. And this is the one event where we can all come together and celebrate that in the same place and at the same time. And that’s not to say it doesn’t happen on a daily basis everywhere else, but it’s just that the integration doesn’t always happen. The special thing about VDF is that we come together in one place and we make new friends and we reconnect with old friends and we learn from instructors we may not usually have access to. It’s a weekend of connection and sharing.”

Yvette Lee.
Yvette Lee.

What were your highlights of Energetiks VDF 2019?

“Oh my goodness, there is just way too many to count. Obviously having Travis Wall there, he’s been such an amazing part of VDF. He’s just another very special soul that shares so much with the students. I’m actually struggling to pinpoint any specific highlights because there are just so many! I think, for me, watching all the different instructors, who are very, very carefully selected, watching their classes and what they offer the students is so unique. My highlight is always just walking around the festival and soaking up the information that’s being shared.”

What goes into your role as VDF’s artistic director?

“Deborah and Daniel Searle of Dance Informa do such an incredible job of Directing this festival, and I’m so, so thankful to be working with them, but I guess my specific role is to make sure that the people coming to VDF are getting access to the information that they need. I really take choosing the faculty seriously, and I focus on having a great variety of choreographers and mentors and instructors. The most important thing is that the kids are learning from people who have had rich careers within the industry. There is always a mix of fresh faces and more experienced instructors and choreographers, and I like to have that balance because I think it’s important. I also try to make sure that the students are learning from people who started in this industry young, have worked their way through and continue to stay in it. That’s why this year, we had instructors like Matt Lee and Kate Wormald. These are people who started performing as the youngest of their generation, worked their way up to have these incredible, almost incomparable careers, and then moved into choreography and creative direction. It’s really what everyone should be aspiring to if they want to have long careers. So it’s finding the right balance with an emphasis on people who have had longevity. I take it really seriously because it’s what creates the heart of the festival.”

What else can dancers expect to see at VDF 2020?

“We also have audition classes, so a lot of the cruise ships come and audition, and last year Travis Wall took an audition. Then we have people like Will Centurion of Performance Medicine there, talking about mental health, which is so important. We also have a Teacher’s Day, which is an education day designed specifically for teachers, who can take classes with some of our instructors and attend seminars and network with one another. There are also performances, so we have a big showcase at night and showcases during the day, and there’s a dance market with stalls and food trucks. There’s just so much going on! All the full time schools have booths, so if you’re heading toward leaving school, you’ll get access to all the full time institutions at the same time, which is very rare. Last year, we introduced baby classes, and we may also have classes that parents can join in on this year, so there is something for everybody.”

Yvette Lee. Photo by Jayden Hicks.
Yvette Lee. Photo by Jayden Hicks.

What are you most excited about this time around?

“I was excited for VDF 2020 the day VDF 2019 finished! I know a lot of people felt like that; VDF 2019 felt like a really special one. I am excited to connect with everyone again. I love the Australian dance community, but Melbourne is my home and always has been. I feel very privileged to be able to help craft what happens on that weekend, I love our dance community, and I feel excited to be a part of creating what that weekend is. And I’m very thankful to Paul Malek because Artistic Director was Paul’s role before he handed it to me, so I’m thankful that he passed that on.”

What do you think full time or aspiring professional dancers can get out of VDF?

“The main thing is that when I was a young dancer, we used to do a lot of networking at auditions, but there are just not that many auditions anymore. There used to be a few auditions a week, and that’s how we used to connect with dancers from other schools and different choreographers. Now it’s places like VDF where it’s so important to be networking all the time. Getting to know people and watching other people, it’s how you grow and it’s how you learn. Connection and community, that’s what it’s all about. And it’s interesting sometimes, I hear dancers say, ‘Oh, I don’t like the festivals because there are no mirrors, and dancers should have mirrors.’ I have to disagree with that because I feel as dancers, we scrutinize ourselves in the mirror all day, every day. I think when we don’t have mirrors, nobody has to look at themselves or get mad at themselves. It’s about feeling, and learning and watching, so I think one weekend without mirrors is actually quite important. For one weekend, we’re just feeling and connecting with the music and with one another, and we make it less about staring at ourselves and we open everything out.”

Yvette Lee. Photo by Elly Ford.
Yvette Lee. Photo by Elly Ford.

What else are you working on at the moment?

“I’ve just started rehearsals as choreographer for Caroline Or Change up at The Hayes. That’s the second musical I’ve done this year in Sydney, and it’s fun; it’s a really beautiful musical. I’m also working on a television show, although I can’t reveal what it is, so I’m sort of doing those simultaneously at the moment. And I’ve also got a really, really exciting project that’s happening with Energetiks, which everyone will be seeing in the coming months. I’m still learning every day how to manage my time properly and look after myself at the same time. I have a tendency to overwork, and I’m trying to find a better balance. I read all of Cat Santos’ articles; she’s great at teaching self-care and boundaries. But I love what I do so much, and I feel so thankful that I am in this position that I get to be able to create things every day and create and design things like the festival. To me, it doesn’t feel like work; there is so much joy in everything.”

Finally, how would you sum up VDF to someone who has never been?

“VDF is a festival for people of all ages and all abilities. The weekend is not about being the best or about competing with one another; it’s about sharing and connecting. Our aim is that people leave VDF with more knowledge about dance and about themselves as a dancer, and having made new friends. It’s a loving environment, and we really try to create that. The best thing about VDF is that it’s community, not competition.”

Have you got your ticket to VDF? Early Bird Tickets are now on sale. Don’t miss out, the 2020 Festival is likely to sell out. For more information and tickets, head to Vdf.com.au

By Emily Newton-Smith of Dance Informa.

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