Is dance pure entertainment or a catalyst for change? Can you do both?
Exploring this thought-provoking question and the unique theme of Bread and Circuses, the student led Ausdance ACT Youth Dance Festivalaffectionately called Dance Fest, is back on stage to empower young people in the arts.
Presenting an exciting mix of live performances and dance films made by secondary schools from across Canberra and surrounding regions over two evenings at the Canberra Theater Center (held this year on Wednesday 18 and Thursday 19 October), the festival has long been known as History of success in Canberra – and for many it’s a chance to step onto the theater stage for the first time, shaping potential artistic careers.
Creating this year’s theme as a provocation to inspire and engage students, according to Principal Dr. Kathy Adamek, she was drawn to the concept because of her passion for history, her love of Neo Circus and the role of the performing arts in modern society.
“Bread & Circuses literally taps into the idea of exciting and very cool entertainment, and we have plenty of that these days. We almost have an inordinate amount of entertainment coming at us digitally,” she says. “Live performance has to compete with that a bit.”
“In the Roman Empire, we know they were experts in the grand extravaganza. One of the philosophers of the day coined the term ‘bread and spectacle’, which means give the public food and entertainment and they won’t notice what’s going on politically… that was the provocation I wanted the students to think about because it’s very easy nowadays to turn off.”
Using a phrase from the Roman poet Juvenal as her main source of inspiration, for this year’s show Cathy decided to ask the students a question: Is dance pure entertainment or a catalyst for change? Can you do both?
“My personal position is that entertainment is both – I think Barbie the film is actually a great example of how something can be really fun and appeal to everyone, but it’s a satirical piece that’s also a reflection of our society,” says Kathy.
“It’s a perfect example of my position on the role of entertainment in art … that you can still do these educational and entertaining things.”
Tasking each of the participating schools with re-imagining the theme, Kathy says that as students prepare for the show in mid-October, audiences can expect to see very strong messages about feminism, identity and conformity interwoven in the creation of some provocative pieces.
“The great thing about doing art and dance is that it’s a way to break free or start questioning the society you live in. Dance itself is a liberating activity,” she says.
“This is especially evident in the choreographic choices they make [the students] as well as the ideas they play with.’
A long-standing fixture in Canberra’s arts and education calendar since 1985, this year’s Dance Fest has 750 students (up 100 on the previous year) and over 30 schools participating.
Hoping that this opportunity for shared artistic experience will become a cherished memory for all participants, Cathy is excited to see more gender diversity on stage – and with three to six minutes to express their interpretation of what dance is through performance and film, she’s excited to see what they come up with.
“They continue to amaze me… I can’t wait to see the movies and the live performances together.”
What: Ausdance ACT Youth Dance Festival 2023: Bread and Circuses
When: Wednesday 18 – Thursday 19 October
Where: Canberra Theater Centre
Tickets + more information: canberratheatrecentre.com.au
Featured image: Art Atelier.