20 years of spectacular creativity and opportunity

More than 26,500 Southwest Sydney students have performed in the musical and dance event, Our Spectacular, since 2001. Alyssa Terese reports.

a group of girls dancing on stage a group of girls dancing on stage
Image: Let's dance: Students on stage for the 20th anniversary of Our Spectacular.

Under the blinding lights of the iconic Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, 1400 south-west Sydney public school students performed to a sold-out audience for this year’s Our Spectacular.

Students from the Auburn, Bankstown, Chullora, Girraween, Parramatta and Strathfield school networks have performed in the musical and dance event since 2001 with almost 30,000 students getting their moment in the spotlight over those 20 years.

Granville South Creative and Performing Arts High School teacher and Our Spectacular director and conductor, Kipi Fifita, said the event was originally known as the Granville District Schools Spectacular. It was started by the Granville Primary Principals’ Association to create equal opportunities for students from all backgrounds to foster and explore their passion for music and dance.

“Our Spectacular provides an opportunity for children to explore and perform in the creative arts and be proud to share this with the community,” he said.

“A large number of our students are not in a position to learn dance or singing outside of school, so Our Spectacular has always been a platform to allow students to explore their talents and provide equity opportunities for the students.”

The combined primary and secondary choir involved 550 students, and in an Our Spectacular first, it was joined by the Victoria Avenue Public School AUSLAN choir to perform the hit song ‘A Million Dreams’ from the movie The Greatest Showman.

“We also had the Symphonia Jubilate Orchestra perform, which is made up of students predominantly from primary and secondary schools in the Strathfield area,” Mr Fifita said.

“The theme of the 2023 event was Story Time. It was an opportunity to share rich messages about being yourself, developing positive friendships, building resilience, resolving differences, being proud of your cultural background, and caring for and appreciating our natural environment.

“These are vital values that public education reinforces in students every day at school in so many different ways.”

Granville South Creative and Performing Arts High School relieving principal Joumana Youssef said Our Spectacular was often the first time students and their families had been inside the Opera House.

“Giving the students from south-west Sydney the opportunity to be exposed to something as grand as the Opera House truly builds a sense of belonging,” she said.

Image: Ready to perform: left to right, back row: Eshal, Lima, James, Gavin, Poppy, Mia and Gavin. Front row: Ira, Melissa and Kiyan

Signing choir breaks new ground

Victoria Avenue Public School’s nine-student AUSLAN choir signed their hearts out at Our Spectacular, the first time the choir had performed outside of school grounds, choir coordinator and teacher of the deaf Sophie Mohr said.

“We’ve been rehearsing weekly for the past three months and the students have worked really hard,” Ms Mohr said.

“Being involved this year is so exciting and important for both the students and their parents – they’ve done a great job.”

The choir has three students who are deaf and use AUSLAN as their first language, as well as six other eager young signers.

Year 5 student Eshal signed she was a mix of “nervous, scared and happy” about her first time on stage at the Opera House.

Eshal uses a bone conductor hearing aid, AUSLAN and speech to communicate with others. Standing next to Eshal was Year 4 student Poppy, who joined the choir so she could “communicate with everyone”.

“There’s a whole other community that has another language, and they have lives that I wanted to be able to learn about,” Poppy said.

“If I learn AUSLAN, I’ll be able to talk to them, and being in the choir is a really good way to spread the learning of AUSLAN.”

Ms Mohr said a unique challenge of leading an AUSLAN choir was translating the signs from English.

“When translating a song from English to AUSLAN, you really need to check that you’re using the right context for a particular phrase or song. It’s not as simple as saying there’s one English word to an AUSLAN sign,” she said.

“The students see me interpreting at assembly or see me using AUSLAN to communicate with my students, and it has sparked a lot of questions and interest.

“Not everyone wants to give up their lunchtime to learn another language, it’s not usually the popular thing to do, but the student who are involved love it. They have hearts of pure gold.”

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