2021 Australian Youth Dance Festival: To reboot youth dance culture

Australian Youth Dance Festival.

From 4-10 July, the 2021 Australian Youth Dance Festival (AYDF) will bring together over 130 young dance artists and 40 professional dance artists and educators at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) in the heart of Melbourne’s vibrant Arts precinct. 

Australian Youth Dance Festival.

Internationally acclaimed, Australian choreographers Caitlin Comerford and Kyall Shanks will be co-artistic directors for AYDF 2021. They will create a program of excellence around three curatorial themes (RE)GENERATE(RE)IGNITE and, (RE)CONNECT. Shanks and Comerford both have a strong connection to youth dance culture and bring both energy and experience to the role.

“It’s exciting for me to be involved with AYDF ’21,” says Comerford. “I’ve been working in youth dance for about five years, but directing a festival is a brand-new thing.”

COVID-19 has created uncertainty for many young people regarding their careers and hopes for the future, and the AYDF’21 aims to reignite the creativity and confidence of young, emerging dance artists and the professional allies who work with and support them. 

Shanks says that during the COVID restrictions of last year, young people had almost no say in how their lives were being directed. “I feel like they involuntarily lost their autonomy a little bit,” she says. “I’m looking forward to helping young dancers to find their voice again through their art and their community.”

Practice, performance and career pathways

AYDF’21 will stimulate participants’ passion for dance, focusing on building pathways for young artists, and encouraging the next generation of dance professionals.

“Our approach to curating this festival is engaging artists who understand youth dance and who can inspire the next generation,” Comerford explains. “So, for us, diversity of process and artistry is important.”

Shanks agrees, adding that young artists are too often overlooked, and their views dismissed even though they “are literally inheriting the industry from practicing artists. AYDF’21 is an opportunity for them to reconnect and hopefully be inspired after a year in which they were mostly isolated from each other.”

Kyall Shanks.
Kyall Shanks.

The festival will have four integrated streams of inquiry: professional practice, skills development, performance-making and performing, and the development of sector literacy. Daily technique classes and panel events will bring together leading dance practitioners to explore dance practice, training opportunities, career pathways and more. A Dance Think Tank and Industry Forum, co-coordinated with the VCA, will facilitate professional development for teachers, leaders, artists, and secondary school dance teachers, comprising workshops, discussions, presentations and networking, culminating in a National Industry Forum. 

Ausdance VIC Executive Director Michelle Silby says future talent needs to be nurtured today. “It’s vital that young dancers are mentored by experts who can pass on their experience and passion to the next generation of dance professionals,” she says.

A public performance will showcase new works from participating youth dance companies. “I want to see moments of elation and joy from the participants,” Comerford remarks. “That’s what will make the festival a success in my eyes.”

“For me,” Shanks adds, “it will be important to take a moment during the festival to recognise and celebrate the breadth and diversity of the dance community.”

The festival will take advantage of its partnership with the Victorian College of the Arts and University of Melbourne to offer advice on higher education pathways, and work with Melbourne dance companies to arrange tours, talks and showings for Festival participants.

Caitlin Comerford.
Caitlin Comerford.

“We both see the importance of locating the festival at the VCA because many of the participants will be thinking about their futures and their educational pathway into the industry,” Comerford says.

Subsidised ticketing

Ausdance VIC is offering five fully funded scholarships to Melbourne-based youth contemporary dancers who identify as Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander or First Nations. Applications for this scholarship will be made public on the Ausdance VIC website in the coming weeks. 

Eligible attendees can also access a Victorian government subsidy to purchase tickets to the festival via the Get Active Kids Program, which helps families get their kids involved in organised sport and recreation activities by reimbursing some costs. Eligible children aged between four and 18 may be able to receive up to $200 each.

Get Active Kids is administered by the Victorian government, and information about eligibility and applications is available from Get Active Victoria. The AYDF falls within the timeframe of Round 2, claims can be lodged between 31 May and 11 July.

For more information on the 2021 Australian Youth Dance Festival, visit ausdancevic.org.au/events/aydf-2021.

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