It could be any school holiday Saturday in Mandurah. It's standard Aussie holiday fare—families line the grassy foreshore, and picnics, cricket games and shrieking children abound. However, there are a few surprises in store along the foreshore on this particular Saturday. Scattered along the promenade are tents, caravans and campervans from a variety of eras, and 160 young dancers who dance in and around these temporary homes. This is Foreshore Cruisin', the performance that is the culmination of the 2009 Australian Youth Dance Festival (AYDF).
The 2009 AYDF saw dancers aged between 15 and 19, from across Australia, converge in Mandurah for a jam-packed week of dance and dance-related activities. Each morning began with a whole-group yoga session, after which the dancers would then spilt into groups to attend a dance/movement technique workshop. Groups rotated through the styles on offer, which included physical theatre, hip-hop, jazz dance, contemporary dance, contact improvisation, Indigenous contemporary dance, lindy hop (swing dance), and aikido-inspired contemporary dance.
Afternoons were spent in choreographic workshops, creating material for Foreshore Cruisin' and evening activities included the Opening Party, a dance film night, "Fragments I and II"—two programs of performances by visiting groups and local professional artists and companies, professional discussion forums, and, of course, the Closing Party.
2009 AYDF Director, Claudia Alessi was keen to ensure that participants came away with a broader understanding and appreciation of what constitutes "dance". Speaking to some of the local and interstate participants it was clear that the range of styles and activities on offer was much appreciated.
"I really learned about the vast diversity of dance in Australia from meeting all the choreographers, each of whom has their own unique style and their own reasons for dancing," remarked AYDF participant, Paul Jackson (QL2, Canberra).
Participant James Batchelor (QL2, Canberra) enjoyed learning new styles and skills, and said,
"I had never tried swing dance before and it was really fun. Learning and performing swing dance was a stand-out for me."
Participants also commented on the value of meeting young dancers from different parts of Australia to home, wherever that may be. When asked about what made the AYDF so special, Paul responded
"Meeting other dancers, and making new friends with people around the country—people that I wouldn't have met otherwise, and people from different dance backgrounds as well. It was really nice to go over to WA and meet other dancers and find out what other people's passions are and why they like to dance. It's nice to compare stories."
Emily Fiori (STEPS Youth Dance Company, WA) concurred, saying
"My favourite thing about the AYDF was having the opportunity to make friends with other dancers from all over Australia who share the same dreams as me."
While the AYDF was multi-faceted, the event that pulled all 160 participants and their artistic leaders together was the Foreshore Cruisin' performance. The young dancers were divided into four groups of forty, and each group worked with three choreographers to create fifteen minutes of movement material, to be performed on the foreshore at the end of the week. As aforementioned, the over-riding theme was camping in Mandurah, and each group explored a particular era.
Watching Foreshore Cruisin' on the final day of the AYDF, it was difficult to believe that these beautifully crafted, polished outdoor performance pieces had been constructed in just five days.
The 1950's section, entitled "Lindyhop" melded the upbeat vibe of swing dance with contemporary work. Flinging beach balls and inner tyres around, the dancers captured the carefree spirit of holidaying in the post-war years.
The 1970's section, "Cruise", was, as Paul hinted, disco inspired with just a hint of the pyschedelic. With a soundscape that included samples such as a vintage meat pie advertisement, and the "Skippy" theme tune, the dancers had onlookers simultaneously chuckling and tapping their feet.
For anyone who was a teenager in the 1990's, the "Vibe" section could not help but strike a chord. While the dancers did not dress in grunge, they did channel the dark, grungy mood of the era very effectively. A highlight (or lowlight) moment involved a bucket of water being unteremoniously sloshed over the dancers, whose disgruntled yet stoic acceptance of the consequent dampness somehow encapsulated that 90's teen spirit.
Lastly, the current-day presentation, "Zoop It Up", with its high-tech Winnebago looming large in the background, added a sprinkle of hip-hop to contemporary dance. With a tongue-in-cheek So-You-Think-You Can-Dance style dance off, and ubiquitous i-pods, this section drew on various elements of current pop culture.
Browsing the comments on the AYDF Facebook page, set up for the event, it is clear that the 2009 AYDF has had an enormous impact on the participants and their tutors. In the words of one happy participant/Facebook user,
"AYDF was so amazingly awesome!! Can't believe how lucky I was to be involved. Everyone was really fun and friendly there and I hope that I will be able to attend another one in the future. Thank you everyone who put so much effort in to making AYDF so special."