One dictionary definition of Sacred is “worthy of or regarded with reverence, awe, or respect.” I guess it was that definition that caused me to link UTP’s film One Day of Peace, and Sydney Sacred Music Festival to Powerhouse Youth Theatre’s latest show in my last blog post. I had booked to see Jump First, Ask Later twice last Saturday and I wasn’t disappointed. There is usually so much depth of thought, range of skills and speed of delivery in PYT productions that I need time to absorb it all – well as best I can, anyway.
Jump First, Ask Later was created by six young people from Fairfield who came together through their shared love of movement. Several were members of the parkour group Team 9 Lives, but by the time this project began last year, they had separated to become DMC (Dauntless Movement Crew), with a focus on art and movement. Powerhouse Youth Theatre and Force Majeure co-produced their show, which was directed and choreographed by Byron Perry, supported by AV designer Sean Bacon and sound designer Luke Smiles. Reviews have been full of praise.
The show began with demonstrations of typical training, building strength, precision, timing, tight discipline and concentration – five young men – Joseph Carbone, Johny Do, Patrick Uy, Justin Kilic, Jimmy James Pham – and one girl, Natalie Siri, right. The delivery was frequently tongue-in-cheek. Members teased each other, but even as they seemed to compete, they were there to help each other and improve their skills. Safety consciousness was paramount. Gradually, they began to tell their stories, how they came to be involved, seeing challenges in physical elements just while they were walking in the streets. It’s not showing off. If you are worrying about what others think of you, you are not focused, one said.
As Joseph said, movement has become a way of life for all of them. They feel so good when they challenge themselves, exploring and experimenting and then passing on their skills to other young people. They love Fairfield, know its streets intimately and feel entirely at home there. They were making their way financially through teaching classes, commissioned performances, video and film recordings and bigger visions for the future. When you push yourself, it blocks out everything else. Movement is liberating, they say. They told stories of parents worried that they were just wasting opportunities to continue at university or to find a proper job, but expressed gratitude for their support and encouragement. Perhaps most poignant of all was Justin’s honesty in explaining how training helps him manage anger provoked by fractured family relationships. His “fight duet” with Joseph was a clever and very funny send up of stereotypes.
The crew’s commitment to each other and to the other young people of their neighbourhood is inspiring. Patrick and Johnny each came to DMC through their love of street dance. Patrick’s Cambodian background and Johnny’s from Vietnam can sometimes mean tension and distrust. Instead, they delivered wryly humorous performances that included a relaxed and highly entertaining exchange of quick hand and arm movements that brought shouts of approval from their audience.
Until they worked together on this show, crew members had never known each other’s stories, they say. That closer knowledge has welded them together as a totally interconnected team based on trust and coordination. For some like Joseph, who began 10 years ago, street movement was an underground activity distrusted by police. As they gained confidence and acceptance, they began engaging and training other young people. This week, lots of school groups have booked to see the performances and be inspired about their own potential. Classes are now expanding to Bankstown and Campbelltown and will shortly begin in Parramatta. Next year, DMC performs Jump First, Ask Later at Sydney Opera House, from where their show will be streamed live to regional schools.
Between performances, I was lucky to run into film director Guido Gonzales, right, and some of his young team. They made the film Riz, which debuted to a capacity audience at this year’s Sydney Film Festival. They were all locals and enthusiastic about Jump First, Ask Later. Guido said, “It’s vitally important that we tell our own stories.” He has noticed a big change since making Riz and beginning work on their next production. Relaxation with a few drinks after work sessions has been common practice. Now some avoid alcohol. Respect for self, each other and the young people they reach is the underlying spirit – liberation and unlimited possibilities. This suggests finding the sacred in our everyday lives.
It’s a sharp contrast to the picture of life in suburban Sydney fostered by lazy media reporting and too many state cultural institutions. In her PhD thesis just published online by UTS, Penny Stannard begins her introduction: In 2011 Hollywood star and Sydney resident Cate Blanchett and her Sydney Theatre Company co-artistic director husband Andrew Upton recounted their suburban youth in the 1980s for the purpose of securing further state and local government investment in Sydney’s harbourside cultural precinct. For them, Sydney suburbs were ‘flat, dry (and) filled with sinister silence’, while ‘town (the city) was the centre’, a ‘magnetic attractor’, a chance to invent and create. Blanchett and Upton insisted passionately that it is ‘vital for the children of the suburbs that capital cities act like capital cities’ and develop metropolitan inner city precincts filled with artists and cultural organisations. But they also stressed that the key to success of such precincts lay in them being located where people live. Blanchett and Upton were unaware of the paradoxical nature of their statement. The majority of Sydneysiders, and indeed Australians, live in the suburbs.
It was enough to win state government budget support, which has again left western Sydney scraping for crumbs. As Guido says, “If we can make a film like Riz in nine days with only $85,000 and have it selected for Sydney Film Festival, imagine what we could do with decent funding!” Jump First, Ask Later plays till Saturday and tickets are selling fast. Click here to buy tickets.