Posted by Meredith Benke Bell
North of the Great Northern Highway to the west of Fitzroy Crossing is Yiramalay. When we’re nearly there, we pass through the Oscar Ranges – dark, stained and crumbling Devonian reef, amongst a sprawling parkland of majestic boab trees and spinifex. I have the pleasure of escorting guests who have never seen this stunning countryside, and their delighted responses makes the long and previously unremarkable trip worthwhile.
I’ve just seen off the start of an exciting new Dragonfly Outreach project at Yiramalay Studio School. For a third time, Theatre Kimberley is partnering with the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) to make this happen.
Yiramalay Studio School is a program of Wesley College (Melbourne) and was founded on Bunuba land with Bunuba people in 2011 to give local teens an opportunity to stay on country to complete school years 10-12. When students are ready, they spend a term or even a year in Melbourne. Melbourne-based Wesley students also come to the Kimberley for a Yiramalay induction, a three-week visit that focuses on cultural learning. Wesley College and the Bunuba people work in partnership to oversea the school's direction.
Yiramalay’s student base started as only Kimberley students, but the Yiramalay-style of education has become so popular, that the school now hosts students from Roeburne to the Northern Territory, and seemingly everywhere in between. There are currently an estimated 14 language groups represented.
Over the next two weeks, the students will learn skills in the trainers’ speciality areas, including acrobatics and dance, to create a performance to show the community on June 20th. Themes such as language and identity and walking in two worlds will be explored in the process.
As I left the team to return to work in Broome, I was left with a strong sense of excitement about the dynamics of this teaching team, and how their strengths will make for a really exciting experience for themselves and the Yiramalay kids. Leading the project is NICA instructor and social circus expert, Andrea Ousley. Andrea has over 20 years of experience teaching circus around the world to people from diverse backgrounds. To see her teach is to see her connect with everyone in the room. Within the first class session she has made all participants feel safe. She has shown them that they can succeed if they trust themselves and each other.
Mark Graham is a talented NICA graduate and coach from Bathurst, NSW. He will soon start his Masters in Teaching and is keen to turn his career focus to teaching and directing circus for young people. This is his first experience working remotely and with Indigenous teens, so there is much for him to learn from these students as well as from his teaching peers.
NICA student Bronson Morris is an Indigenous young man from New South Wales. After spending three years at NAISDA, a mentor encouraged him to try circus. Following a two-week circus intensive, he enrolled at NICA. Upon our arrival to Yiramalay, he immediately hit it off with the students. Within two hours of our arrival, whilst in the dinner queue, he broke out into dance learned whilst on a NAISDA study trip to East Arnhem Land. The Northern Territory boys at Yiramalay – who are very strong in their dance culture – erupted in cheers, as did all those around them.
Broome trainers Ryan Jenkins and Sibylle Wenger will join the project for its second week, to help shape the show development. They will be a great addition to the team. It’s really exciting for our local program leaders to have these kinds of opportunities to work with interstate professionals and student artists to expand their skills. Equal in value is the opportunity to leave Broome to get to know the people and the places of the remote Kimberley a bit better. After a brief taster of this experience, I wish I could do more of this myself.