"[Staff from The Australian Ballet] sent through a trailer featuring Ella [Havelka], who’s their first Indigenous dancer ...We showed the trailer to all of the kids. Someone asked, ‘Who thinks they’re going to be the next Ella?’, and you just see all of these little hands fly up." Mardi Diles, Weave Youth and Community Services Partnership Manager
Redfern, Sydney, NSW
Weave Youth and Community Services is a non-profit community organisation that supports young people, women, children and families, many from Indigenous backgrounds, living in the City of Sydney and South Sydney. A group of children from Weave, between the ages of seven and thirteen, worked with The Australian Ballet Education team to choreograph and perform a dance piece for their family and friends.
Long-term program benefits
The Australian Ballet Education program ran as part of the school-holiday activity and was driven by the organisation’s desire to give children an opportunity they would not otherwise have.
“It was definitely about access and social inclusion and just really giving these kids a chance to experience something different, something new," says Partnerships Manager Mardi Diles.
This was one of the first occasions Weave had tried a school-holiday program that ran for more than one day. Initially, they weren’t sure if it would work and had concerns it might result in a loss of interest among the children. However, as Mardi explained, this was not their experience at all.
Mardi observed that the longer-term engagement also helped generate excitement and engagement with the children’s families, who all came to support and watch the final performance.
“Kids were going home really excited and talking about what they were doing each day. And because it wasn't just a one-hit wonder, just a one-day opportunity … I think the families got to really engage with their kid … And the kids were excited to have this performance to share with their families."
Diversity and inclusion
Mardi described how The Australian Ballet Education team demonstrated a highly inclusive practice in working with young people - actively involving them, challenging and encouraging them to contribute their ideas, and creating a sense of shared ownership of the performance.
“[The children] were being challenged and they were kind of meeting that challenge. I think they also got to contribute some of their ideas …They definitely loved it, there was some point in the workshops where they got to improvise …. they even got to do some [choreography], they got to make it a little bit their contemporary piece.”
The inclusive environment was also facilitated by the level of support The Australian Ballet Dance Education ensemble brought to the project.
“I think what also worked really well and why the kids were so engaged, [is that] there were a lot of educators … it made sure that everyone felt included, everyone felt noticed, everyone you could tell felt visible … That was a really big plus for us.”
This partnership benefited from the strengths of all those involved. The commitment of everyone at Weave was invaluable. The staff provided food and transport for participants and dispelled some of the preconceptions about ballet before The Australian Ballet Dance Education team arrived. The staff also advised The Australian Ballet on the needs of their children, the importance of empowerment and respect in communication about the project, and how they could best work with them.
“We did have lots of conversations, [with The Australian Ballet] … They were fantastic in managing that really well," says Mardi.
One of the most powerful moments of the program for Mardi was watching the response of the young people, many of whom are Indigenous, to watching a trailer of The Australian Ballet’s first Indigenous dancer, Ella Havleka. Mardi explained that being able to show the children Ella’s journey made the experience more authentic and real for them.
“[Staff from The Australian Ballet] sent through a trailer featuring Ella, their first Indigenous dancer ... We showed the trailer to all of the kids and it was just really nice. Someone asked, ‘Who thinks they're going to be the next Ella?', and you just see all of these little hands fly up. So, it's really powerful … the fact that it is engaging with what could be possible …like, Ella's done it, you could do it too.
[It is important] to make a really strong case for just how significant that is if you want to work with these target groups, for it not to be this tokenistic, ‘look at what we're doing’, but genuinely being able to show what they're making possible.”
She described it as illustrative of the difference between organisations that collaborate to tick a corporate-social-responsibility box and those that collaborate because of a genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Technology, dance education in increasing aspiration
This one-week residency explored the benefits of dance education workshops, technology and performance to the young people accessing Weave Youth Services in Redfern, Sydney.