As part of the iconic Hamer Hall’s re-opening ceremony next weekend, a group of over 200 kids from Melbourne’s diverse Western corridor will have a chance to showcase their new-found love of dance to the crowds around the city’s refurbished cultural hub. The Arts Centre Melbourne and the Barkley Arts Centre have joined arts-centre forces to create eMotion, a predominantly online-based dance workshop aimed at sparking an untapped passion within West Melbourne’s multifarious youth population. Renowned street-based choreographers Demi Sorono, Cat Sweeney, John Gray and their dedicated team of young leaders have worked tirelessly over the past six months to create these dance workshops for kids with next to no dance experience, and their creation is finally about to be unleashed.
Sitting proudly on the artsy south side of the Yarra, Hamer Hall’s grand opening three decades ago was one of the urban art community’s biggest affairs – a waterfront performance hall to be marvelled at from far and wide. However, very quickly it became apparent that the hall failed to live up to the hype. Crucially, the acoustics were mediocre at best. Hamer Hall struggled along for nearly 30 years though, before finally closing two years ago for a huge almost $140 million overhaul. The new auditorium boasts cutting edge sound and comfort, new entrances have helped integrate the hall to its surroundings, and they’ve even doubled the number of toilets inside. However the main focus of these renovations is not superficial. Arts Centre Melbourne’s goal with the Hamer Hall transformation is to open the space up to young people, and people from the outer suburbs, by making a public space that people feel connected to. From tomorrow, the reopening celebrations will begin the process of forging those connections, and one performance to look out for during the reopening celebrations is eMotion – the very embodiment of the Hamer Hall’s ambition.
The series of eMotion performances will be a culmination of six months hard work by youths from Melbourne’s Western corridor. Most of the dancers in the group have never danced before, but have great teachers. Choreographers Sorono, Sweeney and Gray were all trusted with the task of creating the eMotion performance, not only because of their extensive experience in dance and choreography, but also because of their dedication to counter-racism. Because eMotion aims to be more than just a dance collective, the initial goal to bring the cultural diversity of the Western suburbs together by practising inclusion and tolerance through a social and creative medium. Hailing from the Philippines, Demi Sorono (So You Think You Can Dance, 2008) gushes that, “What's really cool about this whole group of young people is that they’re all from different cultural backgrounds – that’s what we were really focused on.”
Each of the three choreographers has been working exclusively with a section of the larger group. However it hasn’t been a traditional dance class scenario. In order to open the workshops up to as many wannabe-dancers from across the West as possible, eMotion had to eliminate the barrier of transport and distance. In fact, the eMotion dance project could very well be trailblazing the dance class of the future as the majority of the choreography and teaching was done through the power of technology. Sorono, Sweeney, Gray and their youth leaders filmed themselves teaching and demonstrating their choreography for every stage of their routines, while participating dance members could follow along from the comfort of their bedroom at a pace they were comfortable with. While the first video lesson was posted six months ago, the entire group only physically met for rehearsal three weeks ago. “[That was the] first time we’d actually seen each other’s choreography, as well as all the kids meeting for the first time,” recalls Sorono. Did it work well seeing all the separate pieces of dance come together as one? “Yeah it did actually – it was amazing. We had such a great day.”
eMotion’s performances won’t be accompanied by the typical mish-mash of Michael Jackson and Usher tracks either. True to the ethos of the dance project, all the music eMotion will perform to are original songs produced by kids involved in the Dig Deep sound project, also run by Arts Centre Melbourne. A hip hop orientated mentoring program, Dig Deep is an ongoing training and support system for emerging music artists throughout Melbourne. “The music we'll be dancing to has been created by young up-and-coming artists that have produced, rapped and sung the music,” Sorono explains. “It’s all original tracks and not, you know, commercial. And that's what it’s about – trying to create opportunities for young people and get them involved in something that they're going to be passionate about.”
The idea of finding passions within kids from all walks of life is something that is dear to Sorono’s heart, and she’s thrilled to be a part of any initiative which supports them in finding those passions. “It’s an amazing project. It just opens up a lot of doors for these kids.” For most of these kids, this is the first dance performance they will ever be a part of and the excitement is almost tangible. And when asked if Sorono thinks this experience has ignited a future in dance among members of the group, she is adamant: “Yes! Definitely. Yes, I would say definitely. Yes, my answer is yes.”
BY KATE MCCARTEN
eMotion will take place at Hamer Hall on Saturday July 28 and Sunday July 29 between 2pm – 4pm.