We need to have a conversation about young people these days

Don't underestimate the discipline, dedication and technical prowess of performing arts students enrolled in Australia's ARTS8 schools, says ANAM's General Manager.
a group of young performing arts students clustered around a girl playing a flute.

Young people. 
We want to have a national conversation about education, discipline and young people.

Recently I was held captive. I sat transfixed in a dark theatre as the astounding young dancers of the The Australian Ballet School generously gifted to a cheering crowd an evening of technically astonishing and characterful dancing. No suburban end-of-year dance concert this, but an inspirational night of ballet, a fully professional set of four masterful works. Included was the world premiere of a ballet setting of Mem Fox’s and Julie Vivas’ Possum Magic, with Mem and Julie sitting beaming in the centre of the stalls. 

Each performer was under the age of 19, and each displayed a technical facility and stage presence way beyond their years, presenting us with performances that were as full of heart and soul as they were marked by impressive technical prowess. The show could tour. Internationally. 

A special Arts8 collaboration. Photo: Jesse Marlow.

Did someone say discipline? 

A couple of months ago in the Sydney Opera House, I sat with my heart in my mouth through a production of our national circus training school – Albury/Wodonga’s Flying Fruit Fly Circus– utterly spellbound by what these schoolkids could do. Not just juggling, tumbling and jumping, but engaging us in a story about the building in which they were performing. In circus. Who would have thought? 

In my own shop, the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM), week after week I hover about, humbled, as our young people continue to put wonderful music out into the world. This year our 67 students presented more than 250 public performances to more than 46,000 listeners across the country; the unrestrained joy of their generous music-making is something of a balm to so much scarring of the community’s emotional tissue. 

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The phenomenal work of all these young artists – and of the other artists training in the country’s special performing and screen arts training schools (the Arts8 group) – is only made possible by years and years of devoted application and practice: one cannot learn to fly, like the Fruities seem to do, from an app. 

While these performers, and the remarkable things that they make, fill me with confidence for the future of the country’s creative imagination, I fear for these things, and for the creative lives of those young people who commit themselves to their making. 

A special Arts8 collaboration. Photo: Jesse Marlow.

The path to which these young artists have been called is not an easy one. The incessant crap and clamour that careers across the internet and electronic media, with its insatiable appetite for immediate gratification, does not easily invite contemplation of the considered, carefully crafted work, decades in the making (the counting of contemporary clicks doesn’t quite capture the emotional heft of a 55-minute solo monologue performed by a NIDA student). 

Of course, had the 25-year-old violinist and ANAM and Australian Youth Orchestra (AYO) alumna recently playing her first concert with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra been a swimmer, we would all know her name by now (Phoebe Gardner, by the way). 

Still, of the other night’s final year students on stage for The Australian Ballet School, all are moving into either salaried or contracted employment or further international study. All of them. Of the 30 musicians who completed their training at ANAM this year, all are moving into either salaried or contracted work, busy freelance employment, or further international study. All of them. 

That’s a workplace training and employment rate to be proud of if ever there was one. 

Without an Australian Ballet School there would be no Australian Ballet. Without NAISDA – the incredible academy for First Nations dancers in Gosford NSW – there would be no Bangarra. Without ANAM and the AYO, the ranks of Australia’s orchestras and ensembles would be drastically compromised. 

Without the storytelling delivered by the Arts8 organisations to the country’s stages, screens, concert halls and circus spaces, the national creative imagination would be severely and irrevocably diminished, the country a much sadder place. 

Hard and long though the labour is, not doing what they do is just not an option.

Did someone say young people? 
Thank God for young people. 

This is an edited version of a post on the Life at ANAM blog on 14 December, written by Nick Bailey, General Manager of ANAM.

About the ARTS8

The Australian Government funds the eight national elite training organisations in the performing arts, which support Australia’s thriving creative economy. The organisations’ training programs promote artistic and cultural excellence. Together they organisations comprise ARTS8: the Australian Roundtable for Arts Training Excellence.

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Nick Bailey is General Manager of the National Academy of Music (ANAM).