NAISDA Graduate Maddie Paluch shares the highs and lows of 2020 - 11.06.20

For Class of 2019 NAISDA Graduate Maddison Paluch, 2020 has been a year of highs and lows.

First, the highs – In a first-of-its-kind collaboration between the two companies, Maddie and fellow NAISDA graduate Edan Porter were approached by Bangarra Dance Theatre to take part in a unique new program under the Russell Page Graduate Program – Professional Development Scholarship for pre-professional dancers, including ten weeks with Sydney Dance Company’s Pre-Professional Year.

She was also the recipient of NAISDA’s Class of 2019 Chairperson’s Excellence Award, which is awarded each year to a Graduating Diploma Developing Artist in recognition of their exemplary positive contribution to College life and highly distinguished artistic and academic performance record.

As for the lows – Unfortunately – like for most people – COVID-19 has thrown an uninvited spanner in the works. With classes shutting down indefinitely and live performances coming to a sudden halt, Maddie’s pre-professional training has been paused as she learns to navigate her first year in the arts industry during a global pandemic.

We caught up with Maddie to find out what her first year out of NAISDA has been like so far, what she’s learnt along the way and what’s in store for her future.

What have you been up to since leaving NAISDA?

The year started off amazing because I got a scholarship with Bangarra. But, because of Coronavirus, everything has been shut down. So, I have been spending time at home, home schooling my sister who is twelve and my nephew who is four, which I’ve never had to do before – so that’s a whole different experience for me!

My mum also recently had major surgery, so it’s kind of been good timing because we’ve had an opportunity to be together as a family and look after each other during her recovery.

As well as that, I’ve been trying my best to keep active. It’s been quite crazy not being in a studio all day. I’ve been trying to find ways to cope mentally, because this whole situation can take a toll on you. I’ve been looking for outlets to keep physical because finding space that is suitable as a dance studio can be difficult.

Have you been doing anything to fill the void of not being in the studio?

Right now, I am really trying to build up that place of storytelling. I have been researching stories from my family as well as reading and watching a lot of works to build up a vocabulary around where I want to go with things when I start creating properly again. I am stocked full of all of these ideas and am ready to burst with creativity when things get rolling again!

Being out of a studio has been good and bad, I personally have found it mentally draining as life really has been turned upside down and you can start to feel extremely lost but I’ve started to find new ways to stay motivated, be creative and  tell stories without being in a studio space. It’s all about finding different ways to tell your story as an artist.

Congratulations on winning the 2019 Chairperson’s Excellence Award. While unfortunately NAISDA was not able to hold a physical graduation ceremony this year, did you feel that the virtual graduation was an opportunity to celebrate?

I definitely think that it was. Although it would have been amazing to graduate beside the other Diplomas, I have a huge family and you normally only have so many family members you can invite and who get to be a part of it, but because the world had basically shut down at that time, we as a family, got together and had a special fire to celebrate. We were all ready to celebrate together at 11am, because we knew that’s the time I would have graduated. I really liked it because I didn’t have to pick and choose which family members could celebrate with me and we all got to experience it together.

I was actually in the middle of the shops with mum getting food for our barbecue when I read that I had received the Chairperson’s Award! I was so emotional because I wasn’t expecting it all – I was just happy to graduate. When I clicked on the link to see who won and my name popped up, I let out a scream and started crying in the middle of the shops! I am extremely honoured by the award and still today I think that is a major accomplishment for me at NAISDA, I still get shocked when I get asked about it. It’s a wholesome feeling to be acknowledged that way.

Maddie performing in NAISDA’s 2019 production Ngoenakap. Image by Wayne Quilliam

How was your experience with Sydney Dance Company?

I had ten weeks with the Pre-Professional Year Program at Sydney Dance Company. It was such an eye opener. It made me realise that there’s a difference between being a dancer and being a human who is a dancer. To be the artist you want to be, you have to first be the person you want to be. For me, I had never experienced that before. I’ve always been about ‘dancing, dancing, dancing’ but it was good to take a step back and realise that if I figure out the human I am, then I can be the best artist I want to be.

It was incredible to experience working with so many different choreographers and dancers – a completely different environment that I hadn’t really been opened up to before. It was also good because Edan [Porter – fellow Class of 2019 graduate] was with me. We had both just left NAISDA and were in the deep water, but we decided to give it our all and dig our heels in. When the days got tough and there were challenges, we could connect and talk about it together and I think that’s what got us through it so well.

The experience made me realise that maybe there’s a part of myself that I haven’t discovered yet. You kind of think you know the person you are but then you are shown this whole new world of who you could be. I’d say that the main challenge was mentally trying to find that person and taking down the barriers.

While Coronavirus has obviously had some negative impacts on us all, do you think that any positives have come from this experience? 

The most valuable thing that I’ve learnt is that sometimes it’s okay to take a break and step back because it can pay off in a different way. My family is so busy all the time so just having that quality time with my family has shown me how important they really are, and that we have such a strong connection.

Also finding new ways to train has been a big eye opener for me. I have been training with my family who are filled with oztag/football players and the training is completely different then a ballet or yoga class, I find it amazing how different we all train and come together to motivate each other. Finding different ways to move has been a massive thing that I’ve been focussing on to ensure I am as ready as ever when a studio or the performance world is back up and running. And to keep me sane in this very different world.

What’s in store for the future?

I have lots of goals that I would like to achieve. For now, it’s a bit murky but I’m looking at exploring a few courses such as fitness courses as well as youth work and community services as a back-up plan. I’m trying to find ways to have a plan B in things that I enjoy to keep the community going. I think a lot of Indigenous people are going to need support after this, so I’d love to be someone who can be a support system for them.

I’ve been trying to find ways to keep dancing and creating so that when this all clears up; I have the opportunity to start creating some of my own works or taking my dance training out in the community to help raise the next generation of dancers.