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Students learn finer pointe of dance with leading UK company

A Glen Innes teenager who started dancing in Year 7 at her teacher’s insistence is now “aiming for the moon” after taking part in a workshop with internationally renowned professional dancers.

Students at dance workshop

Practice makes perfect: From left Mia Ryan, Denison College of Secondary Education, Kelso Campus; Katie White, Cronulla High School; Beth Eagland, Northern Beaches Secondary College, Mackellar Girls Campus; and Jennifer Mackenzie, Glen Innes High School. Photograph by Anna Warr

Jennifer Mackenzie was one of 20 students from across NSW selected to join a workshop with leading contemporary UK dance company, Michael Clark Company, during its Australian tour.

The workshop was a joint initiative between the Sydney Opera House, the NSW Department of Education's Arts Unit and Michael Clark Company.

The students also had the chance to attend the Australian premiere of Michael Clark Company’s latest touring work at the Sydney Opera House titled, 'to a simple, rock ‘n’ roll ... song', a blistering fusion of music (featuring the songs of David Bowie, Patti Smith and Erik Satie), art, fashion and, of course, dance.

Arts Unit Dance Performance Officer Susan Rix said the workshops were designed for intermediate to advanced-level contemporary and ballet dancers.

The students selected were members of the NSW Public Schools Dance Ensemble Program and featured dancers from the Schools Spectacular Ballet Company 2017.

“Michael Clark Company is one of the world’s most acclaimed experimental dance companies and Michael Clark’s choreography consistently breaks new ground in dance. These workshops were an incredible opportunity for young dancers in the public school system to witness and experience the inner workings of a professional company,” said Ms Rix.

Jennifer, in Year 11 at Glen Innes High School, is studying dance at HSC level and said the company members had encouraged them all to “make mistakes and learn from them”.

She was particularly inspired by the determination Kieran Page showed to make it as a professional dancer as his late start in dancing mirrored her own.

“He started dancing at the age of 14 when his teacher took him by his blazer and brought him to attend a dance rehearsal,” Jennifer said.

“Since then he knew that he would be spending the rest of his life as a professional dancer.

“I find this story very close to me as I only started dancing when I was 13 and it’s amazing how far I have come, having no dance background before then. Knowing Kieran’s journey is telling me to keep working hard, persevere and aim for the moon.”

During the week the students explored creative movement connected to Michael Clark Company's contemporary and ballet repertoire as well as training in the contemporary technique used by the company dancers.

The Arts Unit has developed a strong relationship with the Opera House over the past four years, partnering to provide unique opportunities for students with visiting professional companies performing at the Opera House.

In previous years, highly respected international arts organisations such as the London Symphony Orchestra, Mark Morris Dance Group, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company and Academy of St Martin in the Fields have led masterclasses, workshops and performances that encourage innovation in arts learning.

Sydney Opera House, Head of Children, Families & Creative Learning, Bridgette Van Leuven, said the partnership was a great way to have visiting international companies offer students a unique and practical learning experience.

“Working with these incredibly skilled and experienced dancers and educators from Michael Clark Company is an experience these students will treasure for a lifetime. We’re proud to bring the Opera House’s touring artists and students together,” said Ms Van Leuven.

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