Shaping Australia’s Cultural and Creative Landscape: The 2024 NAISDA NIDA Collaboration - 12.04.24

In March, students from two of Australia’ leading performing arts training organisations – NAISDA and the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) – came together to explore creative and cultural partnership, cross-cultural storytelling and multidisciplinary approaches to performance over a week-long collaboration.

The intensive and unique program encouraged NAISDA and NIDA aspiring dancers, designers, directors and choreographers to explore the space in between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Knowings and non-Indigenous perspectives, and to embrace cross-cultural arts practice and making.

For her second consecutive year, Wakka Wakka and Kombumerri dancer and choreographer Katina Olsen led and facilitated the program. Katina was also joined by leading First Nations artists and contributors including Dr Nerida Blair, Stuart McMinn, Kevin ‘Gavi’ Duncan, Jacob Nash, Berthalia Selina Reuben and Ryan Whitworth, who all introduced and developed important cultural and creative conversations.

During the week, we caught up with Katina to have a yarn to learn more about her role and what the week involved.

Tell us about yourself and your role in the NAISDA NIDA collaboration.
Im Katina Olsen. Im a Wakka Wakka Kombumerri choreographer. I mainly work with contemporary dance and movement and occasionally I do a little bit of acting.

I was invited by NAISDA and NIDA to come in last year and again this year to be a facilitator for this week-long period of collaboration. Its been so enjoyable!

What has this involved?
This week has been themed around ‘walking together’. The schedule of the week was created by NAISDA Unit Manager of Performance and Production Angie Diaz with Advanced Diploma Coordinator Alfred Taahi, who devised and delivered the schedule. We brought everyone together with a Welcome and an on Country experience with Stuart McMinn, which was amazing.

Uncle Gavi Duncan led a Welcome to Country and a Smoking Ceremony on Monday followed by weaving with NAISDA graduates Aroha Pehi and Amy Flannery. Everyone learnt to weave different necklaces and baskets and we’ve continued weaving, collaborating and yarning throughout the week.

Dr Nerida Blair’s session on Lilyology and the space in between Western practises and structures and Indigenous Knowings was really beautiful. It introduced to some students a new way of thinking which they could embed in their devising and creating later in the week.

We had a yarn with the wonderful Jake Nash too, who is known for his great set designs with Bangarra Dance Theatre. Jake and I actually worked together back in 2008/9 when I was with Bangarra!

It was wonderful to have Jake in the room to exchange ideas about using objects to communicate story, gently providing creative and cultural provocation to each of the groups.

The NIDA students also took part in a cultural session learning songs and dances with NAISDA’s Cultural Trainers. And we had a workshop from CIRCA and saw their current production at The Art House Theatre. It’s been a really big, full week!

Have there been any standout moments or highlights for you this week?
Yeah! One group chose to restart their creative and devising process entirely. We’ve really been encouraging that space for play and research, rather than building the work and rehearsing it and then getting stuck in the pressure of an outcome. So I think it’s been really exciting to see a group completely blow their idea up and start again.

Also seeing how our weaving is a beautiful metaphor for how the groups are working together, weaving ideas and really getting to know each other.

We’ve been fortunate to have Ryan Whitworth, a NIDA graduate who has been involved in previous collaborations join us. Ryan shared insights into his experience and how he continued collaborating with the same artists he met back then. I believe it was valuable for everyone to hear this feedback, highlighting that these interactions mark the beginning of further collaborations and the promising work we will undertake in the future.

So many highlights, I can’t pinpoint one!

Why do you think that the NAISDA NIDA collaboration is so important?
First of all, I think theres really different processes of learning between the two organisations. So I think bringing them together to see what happens when we collide or work alongside each in this learning space and knowledge exchange is really generative.

Also, youve got NIDA director and design students working with NAISDA developing and practising artists. That mix of disciplines is really interesting. Weve encouraged everyone to step out of their lane, then come back into their own lane, to stretch how they usually create and move into new or unfamiliar learning spaces.

How has this year’s collaboration been different compared to last year’s?
Some participants were part of last year’s program, so they’ve brought that knowledge and shared it with the group. But there are also a whole new group of people bringing different dynamics to the collaboration.

We’ve structured the week in a similar way, but have built on last year’s learnings. We also organised an extended on Country experience to begin the week.

Last year I introduced a big disruption.  There were three working groups, and I took two people from each and swapped the groups around before they presented their final work. It blew up the week, but in a good way. There was tension of course, –  people were uncomfortable, but it also brought new perspectives into the room.

This year, we didn’t repeat that process as the students were already aware of what occurred last time.  Instead we talked about it and invited the groups to find their own self-provocation to shake things up. Different groups have chosen to rework ideas. There’s a number of things they’re doing to stay uncomfortable, which is really exciting.

What do you hope to see come out of this experience?
I really look forward to seeing and witnessing future partnerships and collaborations once everyone is out there in the industry. I think this is a really beautiful space to get to know each other. Thats what this week is really about, sharing our skills and what were each bringing to the table. I look forward to seeing Australias future works, seeing theatre, dance, set design that will happen as a result of this week. Because this is where we meet our future collaborators – right here in this space.

I cant wait to see all that work on stage.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
A lot of gold comes from unexpected partnerships and collaborations, and what can happen when we disrupt the hierarchy of conventional theatre making. Drawing on my experience from being a co-Artistic Director of Dance Makers Collective that have worked in this way for over 10 years, I know first hand the benefits of disrupting conventional structures and exploring new possibilities. I think it’s exciting to share those discoveries and insights, so then there’s more tools in the toolbox for everyone in the creative process.

It’s incredibly exciting to envision the future of arts, theatre, dance and the whole sector by shifting our mindsets in this way.

To find out more about NAISDA’s curriculum, training programs and outcomes, click here.