It hasn’t been the easiest start to the year for Certificate III Developing Artist Riley Warner, but the talented young man isn’t letting that stop him from throwing himself whole-heartedly into NAISDA training and learning.
Born in Orange and a proud descendant of the Pitjantjara Mob, Riley left his family home in Newcastle at the start of this year to follow his dream of a career in performing arts. Having always been creative – something he credits to his artistic mother – Riley particularly enjoyed drama and stage performance at school; and admits that dance wasn’t initially on his radar.
When a chance meeting with the Pink Power Ranger (aka. NAISDA Physical Theatre Trainer, Angie Diaz) during an acting workshop ended with her encouraging him to audition for NAISDA, Riley saw it as an opportunity to expand on his abilities and get a foot in the door.
“I had been doing a bit of drama stuff at the time and was looking at various performing arts schools around the country – but when a superhero tells you to do something, how can you refuse?” Riley joked.
“I decided to attend NAISDA’s week-long auditions and found that I was extending myself in ways that were really exciting. I loved it – so when I received my acceptance letter, I knew I had to step up and challenge myself to do it,” he continued.
Whilst Riley raves about enjoying all aspects of the course – in particular the weekly Cultural Classes – playing catch-up in terms of dance experience and technique has been demanding.
“It’s definitely been a challenge not having that basic dance knowledge and grounding to draw from – this course is not a joke, it’s a lot of work,” Riley explained.
“Some days there’s so much being thrown at me and I just sit in my bed contemplating the ‘what ifs’ and how much easier it would be if I’d just started dancing a few years earlier. But the trainers are all so supportive and I’ve made great friends that I can go to when I need help, so I’m very thankful to be part of this environment.”
Like for many, COVID threw a spanner in the works when it came to attending classes on campus earlier this year. In April, the College moved to a combination of online and remote learning and Developing Artists travelled back to their home Countrys for the whole of term two. For a tight-knit group like NAISDA’s Developing Artists – who normally either live together on campus or within the local area – the loss of community and connection made studies particularly difficult.
“I won’t lie, it was painful!” admitted Riley.
“Obviously, movement-based lessons were difficult on Zoom. Those little boxes meant the trainer couldn’t always see all of us and we’d start dancing at different times, which isn’t ideal as dance is all about timing.
“But the worst for me was not being with your friends or interacting with the trainers in person. You start to feel demotivated because you draw a lot of your energy in class from those around you. We’re used to keeping each other going and that just wasn’t there,” he explained.
Despite the challenges of remote learning, Riley continued to push himself to produce engaging work – particularly when NAISDA’s Head of Cultural Practice, Jo Clancy, set a Cultural Repertoire task that required Certificate III Developing Artists to draw the body and label it in Yolŋu Matha language, helping them learn the cultural words.
What transpired was the artistic muse struck Riley in the middle of the night, inspiring him to begin painting in a trance-like state until dawn…or at least, Riley jests, he’d prefer it, if that was the true story.
“I’ll be honest, I had created the painting a while before the task was set, so there wasn’t a lightning flash of inspiration moment,” he joked.
“The task Jo set required us to write down each body part in language and memorise a new one each week. My earlier painting was just sitting there, so I changed it up with a black background and added the language that corresponds to each body area.”
The arresting artwork received excellent feedback from students and staff alike.
With NAISDA resuming on-campus learning this term, Developing Artists have now returned to Darkinjung Land. However, part of cultural learnings shared by Cultural Tutors from North East Arnhem Land, Heather Mitjangba and Tony Ganambarr, continue to be conducted from a distance.
It’s clear that these sessions are a cherished component of the course, with Riley warmly reflecting on this connection with Heather and Tony and its powerful impact on his learning and connection to culture.
“I feel so privileged to learn the dances that have been passed down through the generations,” he said.
“While we can’t be with Heather and Tony in person, just having ties in that Country, sharing their stories and insight into how dance works up there – it allows us to find the things we share and the parts of our cultures that make us unique and different.”
With NAISDA applications currently open for next year’s cohort, Riley encourages other young people who have a passion for the arts, but not necessarily a background in dance, to apply.
“I’d tell anyone who might be considering auditioning to give it a shot! I didn’t come from a dance background, so it’s all new territory for me – but every class I go to, I give it a crack,” he explained.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you look like as long as you give it 100% and put in the effort!”
Applications to audition for NAISDA close on 18 September 2020. Online auditions continue until 2 October.
Visit www.naisda.com.au/audition-for-naisda to apply.
NAISDA’s audition team is available for a yarn (toll free) on 1800 117 116 or firstname.lastname@example.org