Reliving the Victorian Dance Festival 2018
This time last week the Victorian Dance Festival had just launched into a three day agenda of awe-inspiring, triumphant, spine-tingling experiences, encapsulating all of the most profound elements of dance; from education and connection, to community, communication and creativity. And for the sixth year in a row reminded all those who attended of the priceless, and fundamental value of what dance is to each and all. Unravel the layers and you'll find at it's foundation neither method nor technique; not a source of income, or a hobby; no genre or costumes; not even music. Just a unifying language so exceptional and rare that it cannot be translated to any other medium than movement.
An unprecedented success, this year's Victorian Dance Festival built upon the euphoria still lingering from last year's phenomenon, kicking things off with a Teacher's Day on Friday the 16th, hosted at Jason Coleman's Ministry of Dance. The day saw studio owners and teachers from around Australia and overseas (including Energetiks and Dance Informa's 'Win a trip to Australia' recipient, Susan Ledbetter) come together for a day of seminars and dance masterclasses that catered to the dance educator. The day began at nine-thirty with an inspirational talk from Emmy-nominated dancer and choreographer Stacey Tookey, encouraging everyone to embrace their imperfections and draw courage from the qualities that make us each unique, as dancers, teachers, and humans. This was followed by a talk from the incredibly accomplished entrepreneur Misty Lown, before the day divided into seminars tailored towards business owners and educators.
Susan Ledbetter, a Dance School owner and teacher from Arkansas who won the chance to fly over and experience VDF with the help of Energetiks and Dance Informa reflected on what she enjoyed about the event:
"The experience just to come to Australia has been amazing, this is a once in a life-time opportunity and I never thought that I would get to come here.
The teacher's workshop was wonderful, it was smaller than the ones I've been to in the United States and much more personable, I loved that. I loved how I got to meet almost everyone, it was so intimate and lovely. Listening to Stacey speak was very motivational; I actually had a student this week that I'd never got to see perform because she's always quite closed off, but when she got on-stage to I was like 'WOW'. So I really connected on a personal level to what Stacey talked about with getting the kids to open up and feel their freedom. And the business advice that Misty Lown gave about hiring, and Stacey's advice about getting the kids to keep journals for their pieces and performances, those are definitely tools I will be taking home with me".
After a leisurely lunch and plenty of opportunities to mingle and reconnect with familiar faces as well as greet many new ones, the afternoon was kick-started with some surprise gifts from Energetiks who gave away beautiful garments from our teacher-inspired Collection Atelier, alongside a gleeful Kate Meade - as well as an address from Energetiks co-founder and CEO, Karen Tsonidis. The day then concluded with two practical classes from none other than the brilliant Neale Whittaker (demonstrating exercises and a routine designed with boys in mind) and the lovely Stacey Tookey. With teachers breaking out of their comfort zones to try their hands at Neale's 'monkey walks' and immerse themselves in movement, it was a perfect end to the day, filled with plenty of laughter and a renewed motivation to keep innovating and growing both as teachers and business owners.
Friday then culminated with an evening performance of the highest standards, the VDF Gala Showcase that featured a multi-genre line-up of phenomenal performances from dance schools from all around Australia (including Jason Coleman's Ministry of Dance and Transit Dance), to professional dance companies such as BOSS Dance Company and Origins Dance Company, whose transcendental piece choreographed by Jayden Hicks lingered in the mind long after the Gala was over. And whilst technical ability was in no short demand, what makes VDF's performances so unparalleled is the same quality that makes the whole festival unique; it's the atmosphere of support and celebration that's palpable from the frontmost seat to the very back row. Both performers and audiences alike are united by the spirit of the Victorian Dance Fest, one that founder Kate Meade has built the event upon year by year, 'Community, not competition'.
This was followed by two full days of classes, talks and workshops for dancers young and old in the capable hands of some of Australia's finest talent (as well as international guests, schools and companies). And just as founder Kate Meade's vision continues to flourish and evolve, so to did this year's venue, with festival goers welcomed inside the glorious walls and opulent, palatial ceilings of the Royal Exhibition Building. A truly fitting home for a festival that celebrates an equally grand artform with it's own elaborate beauty and history.
In typical VDF-style the first day of dancing began with a queue of eager dancers stretching around the building in anticipation for the doors to open at 8:30am; at which point they were warmly greeted by Kate Meade herself as well as Yvette Lee, VDF's incredible Artistic Director for 2018, and Energetiks Model Search Winner and VDF Ambassador Portia Talib, before being ushered into the immense halls and coming face to face with the Energetiks stall (which we're proud to say was almost as big as our stores!). Classes began at 9am with the first of many international stars; Australian-born former Principal Dancer with The Australian Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet and Queensland Ballet, Mathew Lawrence, taking a senior ballet class on stage and looking dapper in his Energetiks LINKD shirt. Simultaneously, the Royal Caribbean (in their highly anticipated first appearance at VDF) led an international jazz & cruise ship repertoire/audition techniques class for junior dancers in the second hall.
Other highlights of the day included an appearance from two members of Australia's (read: everybody's) favourite Hip Hop group, Phly Crew: James Barry and Neale Whittaker, who thrilled on-stage and elicited almost as much laughter as they did killer dance moves. Then there was Artistic Director Yvette Lee's junior and open classes, which completely raised the roof (no mean feet with ceilings this high), Stacey Tookey's entrancing contemporary classes (proudly sponsored by Energetiks) which held as much emotional exploration as they did physical, and had the effect of sucking all the weight out of the room and leaving dancers of every age immersed within their own personal moments of discovery. And of course, to top off an already radically wonderful afternoon, the incredible Cat Santos lifted the energy to near euphoria with a Jazz class choreographed to Rhianna's 'Where have you been?', and created a hall full of students who hoped the song would never end. Yet throughout the whole day of dancing, not to be discounted was the incredible and priceless moments of connection that happened in between, and the invaluable mentorship and wisdom each and every teacher shared throughout their classes.
And whilst Day one was certainly a hard act to follow, Day two of VDF 2018 held just as many golden moments, and even some tears. First up was the much anticipated Royal Caribbean auditions, which saw dancers eighteen years and older giving it their all in front of the panel of casting directors and Royal Caribbean's choreographer, with plenty a talented dancer making it through to the final round. This was followed by the first classes of the day, taken by Stacey Tookey and the infectiously animated Stephen Tannos who never fails to raise the roof. His senior Hip Hop class got everyone (including spectators) groovin' to JT's 'Filthy', before he innocently stole the show by calling on James Barry and Neale Whittaker to join him for one last potently energised run-through.
Rather than slowing down though the atmosphere continued to ramp-up with an emotionally charged contemporary class from Paul Malek. Dancers were encouraged to be truly authentic and completely uninhibited with their dancing by Malek, who opened himself up to absolute vulnerability with a speech that had practically the whole room in tears. Needless to say, the performances this induced where both poignant and awe-ing. Era Jouravlev from the Joffrey Ballet School was also a firm favourite with dancers, inspiring all with a mix of precision and warmth.
The day continued from strength-to-strength with an appearance from dancer, actor, choreographer, director, producer and Ministry of Dance’s CEO/Artistic Director Jason Coleman. Coleman took dancers through their musical theatre paces with a mix-mash of some of the most iconic stage numbers around (including excerpts from Fame and Hairspray). The final product was a fast-paced, adrenalin packed dance montage of epic proportions.
Last but not least was the final class of the day; an open class with the exceptional Kim Adam that drew the entire festival’s attendees into the one room for a last class full of feeling - made even more visceral by the knowledge that VDF 2018 was about to end. The outcome was a stirring routine to The Greatest Showman’s hit ‘This is Me’, and a moment every dancer present will remember for years to come.
Luckily, for those of us not content with reminiscing for another 12 months, Kate Meade has announced an exciting addition to the Victorian Dance Festival calendar capable of staving of the post-VDF melancholy for the rest of the year. In June, VDF will return to it’s roots, once again hosting a regional event in Warrnambool with the exciting news (announced on-stage last weekend to cheers of excitement) that internationally renowned American dancer, teacher and choreographer Travis Wall will be attending as the Festival’s main guest of honour.
So if you’re in any danger of believing that VDF 2018 has reached the apex of what a dance festival can achieve, think again. June is guaranteed to prove once again that the wonder and joy of Victoria’s most spectacular dance festival is boundless, and will continue to expand without limits, as does the number of attendees who travel from near and far to be part of this incredible event.
For more details on VDF 2018's Regional Festival with Travis Wall and to book your tickets see here: www.victoriandancefestival.com
Article and photography by Elly Ford