Young dancers escalate to the next level

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“Green screen” visual effects at the Lonsdale St. Studio. Patrick Lindley filming. Foreground, Holly Fleming, right, Nicholas Jachno, rear, Ella Pausina.

WHILE many of us are slowing down during the COVID-19 process, Ausdance ACT is quite literally escalating its efforts.

The verb “to escalate” has only been in common use since the 1930s to mean increasing in intensity, and was derived from, of all things, the invention of the escalator. It’s a perfect way to describe Ausdance ACT’s funded youth-mentoring program “Escalate”, where young dancers are paired with mentors to produce new and original work that will take them, well, to the next level.

“Escalate V”, its fifth iteration, had already progressed through an intensive summer workshop directed by Jamie Winbank and would have been performed live on May 1-2.

Debora Di Centa. Photo: Ari Rex.
Producer and leading mentor, Debora Di Centa. Photo: Ari Rex.

But with the virus crisis, Ausdance was forced back to the drawing board, first taking its sessions to Zoom format, then meeting regularly online to work out the technology and now, in a major effort by this year’s producer and leading mentor, Debora Di Centa, leading to a professionally-filmed production that will go live later in May.

You wouldn’t know there was a crisis going on when you’re talking to the vivacious Di Centa. Born in Italy, where she trained professionally in dance in Milan before undertaking choreographic studies in London, she came here five years ago to join her large extended family, Kingston restaurateurs the Agostinis, originally headed up by her late grandfather, who emigrated here in 1951.

Di Centa has never looked back, leaping into the ACT dance community and getting behind dance initiatives with Ausdance, Belconnen Arts Centre, and even performing in a gully at Elizabeth Dalman‘s property Mirramu on Lake George.

Her enthusiasm is infectious.

She praises Canberra Dance Theatre for giving them studio space in NewActon for workshops and their work, as well as the Lonsdale St. Studio, a new seven-by-five square metre space-for-hire equipped with lighting, sound-proofing and professional-grade video and audio equipment, where they are able to use “green screen” visual effects via post-production editing.

When I catch up with her, she’s in the middle of a filming session with professional videographer Patrick Lindley of Patorama Studios in Queanbeyan.

It’s been a busy two days, with Lindley doing the filming, working with new mentees like choreographer Holly Fleming and her dancer, Ella Pausina, to experiment with angles and lighting that could “make them shine”.

In the dance world, the expressions “mentor” and “mentee” are common. The former is a senior dance artist who does the mentoring and the second the person who is being mentored.

“Video and dance go well together, but not all dancers are used to being on the screen,” Di Centa says. 

“We think this has been a special opportunity to explore and grow.”

“Escalate” alumnus, Nicholas Jachno, is choreographing and dancing as a “senior mentee”. After Lindley is finished, Jachno will edit his footage.

Neave Darmody performing “I’m Still Standing”.

On the second day of filming the focus turned to Down syndrome artist Neave Darmody (pictured right) dancing to Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing”, very appropriate and very intense, Di Centa says.

It please her that the present batch of mentees ranges in age from 16 to 23, with Jachno coming back to “Escalate V” to perform as a mature artist an another alumna-mentee, the 20-year-old video maker Natsuko Yonezawa, creating a timely video about the contemporary Japanese phenomenon of “Hikikomori”, which sees reclusive adolescents or adults withdrawing from society and seeking extreme degrees of isolation and confinement.

“We are really happy with what resulted,” Di Centa says, lamenting that they lost two artists because of stress and anxiety over the current situation so that they had decided to “pause their journey”. She’d be glad to have them back.

The filmed concert will see four pieces involving five dancers, and is supported by Ausdance ACT under the chairmanship of Lauren Honcope, with Elle Morris as manager and Leena Wall and Jake Kuzma as ongoing mentors, to say nothing of Di Centa as producer-mentor and ideas person, although she is quick to point out that the ideas for each work come strictly from the mentees.

“We want to send a positive message with the film,” Di Centa says.

The release date for the “Escalate V” film at and on social media has yet to be confirmed.

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