Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

VCA students dance to their own tune

Posted by Kimberly on November 24, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
November 24, 2007 (977 words)

A troupe of 22 dance students from Melbourne, Australia’s School of Dance of Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) descended on Macau to participate in the Fringe Festival, which began on November 10.

Speaking to four of the dancers was an experience that highlighted what being dance students involved as well as their thoughts on what had been their very first international trip.

“Communication is a little difficult most of the time because we need translation,” said 28-year-old Paula Lay on language difficulties in Macau.

Then 19-year-old Efrem O’Brien added, “the traffic here is scary!”

Another problem the dancers experienced was the rehearsal space and stage they were provided, with 19-year-old Jacqueline Young suggesting they could have done with a bigger space as “dancing on the stage was not as stable as we thought.”

Teacher and guest choreographer Neil Adams added, “it was quite a challenge for the students to do complicated movements.”

But speaking about their performance on Thursday, Efrem said, “I think we coped well, with 20-year-old Stuart Shugg adding, “we even had fans come up at the end and asked for autographs and pictures with them,” an experience each of them appeared to thoroughly enjoy.

As for the local food, Neil admitted it was “amazing” a sentiment that everybody agreed with.

The dances performed by the students yesterday as well as Thursday were a combination of something new that the students had just finished establishing last Saturday, as well as two dances that have been in their repertoire for some time,

“Physical Affairs” was a dance the students had been performing since the beginning of the year, having been created by former teacher Sandra Parker who now works a dance company in the Guandong province.

Of the performances in Macau, Jacquinta said, “there was a wide variety of different styles ad things we’ve studied, to which Stuart added, “the dances were choreographed by professionals with ‘Fray’ being a student dance.”

The students were invited to come to Macau as part of the Fringe Festival by Cecilia Lau, a graduate of the VCA’s production school.

“It’s been her desire to have the dance school come to the fringe for a couple of years,” said Neil, adding that the students were invited through the school’s head, Jenny Kinder whereby preparations were then made six months ago.

Thereafter, it was “just a matter of sharing costs between the college and the Fringe,” said Neil.

Each student that participated in the Macau journey was required to pay a fee of AU$700 to subsidise the trip.

Almost of the students that have participated on the trip are 2nd year students from the College’s three-year program, with only three students unable to come for various reason.

“it’s been really rewarding to not be in your comfort zone,” said Paula, adding “it especially taught me to be flexible.”

Speaking oh his mentors, Stuart said, “I think all the teachers and choreographers in Melbourne [at the school] are amazing people. Everyday there’s something new to learn,” he said, adding that to be able to learn something new all the time “is great.”

And according to Efrem, the strong friendships created as a result of their situation certainly helps to get through the program.

Inn fact the group’s closeness was emphatically agreed upon by all, with Efrem adding, “a lot of us had to move out of home to study and I find it’s really difficult going away from your parents.

“We’re in the same boat so we clicked and helped each other through that.”

Asked what they thought was the best part of their studies so far, Efrem believed it was “being able to have so many different experiences while we’re studying.”

Stuart thought the ability to go on tour “while we’re still studying” was amazing.

And they all agreed that dancing was an act of compulsion, that “it’s in you as a dancer, a need to have to do it,” said Stuart.

Jacquinta added that “you take a week off and start getting itchy. A writer expresses themselves through words and I think we do through our moves. It’s hard to explain feeling.”

For Paula, starting dance at the age of 22, wanting to find something she could do.

“I feel compelled to continue the more I do it now,” she said.

Practices such as feldenkrais and kinesiology also make up their course, which, according to Stuart, “is very intensive, where we’re at school for over 40 hours a week.”

Neil lamented the fact that despite all their hard work, the students will have an even harder job trying to gain employment once they graduate.

“It’s extremely competitive with ever-reducing funding. Some people call it slow strangulation,” he said.

“Jobs are scarce and students are often in the situation of having to find their own opportunities,” he added.

Yet the students’ desire to do it doesn’t seem to drop away, although Neil said, suggesting “the course is too intensive and opportunities at the end are too few.”

Neil considered himself one of the “lucky ones” having begun in the industry 30 years ago, when “there was a lot of funding.”

But as hopeless as it sounds, other opportunities do exist, including dance research, dance medicine, choreography and teaching to name a few.

Of course, travelling overseas also opens doors, whereby Neil added, “Australian dancers are very successful overseas in Europe.”

To this Paula said, “It’s important just to keep an open mind,” adding “I think the course is really good in training you in that.”

While most are here until the end of the week, they plan to see what all the fuss is about with Macau’s casinos, probably starting with the Venetian, before returning home to Melbourne, their final year of study and hopefully, a chance to really shine on some of the world’s greatest stages.

 

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