Frances Rings: Photo by Jamie James

NAISDA Dance College, Australia’s premier Indigenous dance college, is partnering with Carriageworks for a fifth consecutive year from Wednesday November 21 to Saturday November 24 to present STORYPLACE. NAISDA’s 2018 Sydney season honours Indigenous women and the ” female creative force inherent in our landscape, art and stories and alive within the spirit of our young women today.”

The Guide had a chance to speak with the director: NAISDA’s Head of Creative Studies, Frances Rings.

SAG:                      It’s such a pleasure to speak with you.  I love the work of NAISDA and look forward to the showcase each year but some of our readers may not be aware. I wonder if we could start the beginning, if you could tell us a little bit about your wonderful college and the stunning work you do.

FRANCES:            NAISDA is a training organisation, an RTO. We train Indigenous students in all areas of dancing and performing arts. There’s formal training in units such as ballet, contemporary, urban, tumbling and also we have other units such as critical and creative thinking, dance on film and theory based units such as composition. We also do cultural dance from the mainland and from the Torres Strait Islands.

And this kind of training, this kind of institution, with a focus on training Indigenous People; you just don’t get this anywhere else in the world. It’s a unique organisation that provides a very specific, bespoke, training to Indigenous young People.

We start at Certificate III and go through to diploma level.  It’s a three year course at present but we are hoping to deliver an Advanced Diploma in a couple of years.

SAG:                      Dance is definitely not my area of expertise but I know what I like and I find the work so refreshing and inspiring.

FRANCES:            Thank you. Well, you know I think it’s always nice to speak to someone who comes to the art form with fresh eyes and a bit of their own take, their own interpretation, of what we do. It’s nice to have somebody, you know, not so attached to industry.

SAG:                      What has the experience of directing STORYPLACE been like?

FRANCES:            Being the director of the show gives me the opportunity to bring in choreographers who are practising in the industry to bring a vision, bring their experience, bring their methodologies to work with our students in order to create a piece.  And I think to give our students that real experience of what is expected when you step into industry.  There are benchmarks, there are standards that need to be met and sometimes it’s difficult but they learn about vision and see something created from a concept, or an idea, to a full production realisation. And to see that and experience that. So we really tried to give these guys that experience of what is expected in our industry.

SAG:                      That makes sense, because most art work begins in passion but for those of us who work in the arts, we know that there is more work to be done.  I suppose all those elements that the students encounter in their studies come together in a production like this.  It’s called STORYPLACE.  I expect that there is a dynamic intersection between the physicality of storytelling and dance.

FRANCES:            Yes it definitely is. And we have to remember, as Indigenous People, our way of documenting our experience, our history, our lives and our knowledge was through the arts. Through the art of painting and storytelling and the art of dance and Ceremony. So these were how it was passed down through generations. So this is something that is not new to us, it’s a vehicle through which we tell our stories and share the perspective of what is currently happening in Indigenous Australia and also from the generational perspective is well.  What are the things that are affecting them and their generation?

SAG:                      STORYPLACE is a celebration of female First Nations choreographers and includes ‘Kāpehu’ (Compass) by Louise Potiki Bryant.

FRANCES:            Louise Potiki Bryant is a Maori contemporary choreographer.  She has created a work for our students and it will be presented. She’s done all the choreography with our students, she’s had the music created and it’s inspired by the creation story from her country.  It’s really exciting to have a First Nations female choreographer come and share their contemporary practice with our young People.

I recently took some of our Diploma students to work with a Maori company based in Auckland and it was fantastic to see them mix with those students. To learn each other’s stories and experience each other’s training and dance. And be able to perform together as well. I think it important those experiences of being able to talk about some of the issues that are affecting them.  Also to see how other brown People practise and study and train in other areas and the issues that they face.

Some of our dancers start quite late at 15 or 16 and we’ve only got to 3 years to make them industry ready so we’re really busy with a pretty rigorous training program.

SAG:                      I think we all know something of the body issues around dancers and one of the other prices is ‘Bittersweet’ by Deborah Brown, which is concerned with how the human body documents the history of Indigenous experiences. That would be very relevant to your students.

FRANCES:            You know we have to remember that it’s over 230 years since settlement, and our bodies have had to adapt to a whole new diet. Our bodies are still catching up to that: a new lifestyle, a new diet, a new way of living. We see that in our communities, a lot of these health issues. We are seeing in our elders, how diet and lifestyle have had drastic effect on health. So this is what Deb’s exploring in the studio, she’s been affected by it.  Her mother has diabetes, her mother is from the Torres Strait Islands and they have had to have a complete look and audit of lifestyle. Our elders are struggling to continue past the age of 60 and we have some real serious issues about our health.

And when we tell stories in our art forms, it’s a vehicle for expressing things that need attention. It’s about putting things in a public forum so people are made aware of the seriousness of it. I think it’s a very important thing for Deb to be doing.

SAG:                      It’s a big issue obviously, and Carriageworks is a big space to explore big picture ideas.  What can we expect visually from STORYPLACE?

FRANCES:            I really love being able to see the history in Carriageworks.  I love the character of that building, the industrial space and I think it frames our stories really well. We have the option of opening it up and we are looking at a bit of a different seating arrangement this year, we are going to bring in some AV as well so there’ll be projection. 

We also do a little thing that we started last year which is like a training mashup. Bringing in all the training that we do, a training snapshot. Because people don’t always understand what we do here at NAISDA and all those different genres that our young people engage with. From musical theatre to the Horton Technique and amazing contemporary styles… and ballet. They’re just so talented and they take these ideas and they just pick them up and mimic them and they are just able to do these things really fluently and effortlessly. They have so much talent.

It’s just inspiring to see your next generation getting up there and telling the stories with a whole new dance language and a new energy that they bring.  And of course to see the latest talent.

SAG:                      Just one of the many reasons that bring me back each year.  It’s been so lovely to speak with you and I have that real tingle of something great to be seen.  Best wishes for a successful season.

FRANCES:            Thank you so much. I look forward to a conversation after the show.

NAISDA Dance College [Facebook] presents STORYPLACE at Carriageworks, November 22-24. Tickets at Carriageworks.