Embodying the essence of the Pacific

Vou Dance graduation

By Debbie Singh

In September 2022, the VOU Dance Company in Fiji was awarded a grant of almost €180,000 through an African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) – European Union (EU) funded project to promote the sustainability of cultural and creative industries in the Pacific.

The project is implemented by the Pacific Community (SPC) in partnership with the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), with financial contribution from the EU and support of the Secretariat of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States.

The grant is the only targeted funding to support the development of the cultural and creative sector in the Pacific.

As the first successful grantee in 2022, VOU’s achievement highlights the importance of its work in promoting cultural diversity, inclusion, contributing to economic prosperity and creating employment opportunities in Fiji, including supporting sustainable livelihoods for women and youth.

VOU aims to create 100 sustainable cultural and creative industry jobs for women and youth in Fiji through the ACP-EU grant funding. With over 70 jobs already established, VOU is well on its way to achieving this goal within its projected timeframe.

“The impact of the creation of these jobs goes beyond mere skills development and employment; it empowers individuals, strengthens communities, and fosters a sense of pride and identity,” VOU Director Sachiko Soro explains.

By investing in education pathways and nurturing talented artists, VOU is ensuring the long-term sustainability of the cultural and creative sectors, positioning Fiji as a hub of creativity and cultural richness, and demonstrating that the cultural and creative industries are a powerful driver of sustainable development.

“I don’t think that we could have done everything that we have without the ACP-EU grant. In addition to the educational scholarships, the grant has allowed us to upgrade and develop our performances and shows. We are very grateful to have been awarded this grant which is facilitated by the SPC. The grant has paid for the tertiary tuition fees of all the students who graduated from the VOU Conservatorium of Dance in November last year,” Mrs Soro said.

“The curriculum is designed so that our graduates are prepared to work in a wide variety of professions, such as dancers, choreographers, dance teachers, dance writers and researchers, rehearsal directors, arts marketers, event organisers, festival directors, costume designers, lighting and sound technicians, dance film creators, music editors and many more creative career paths that may have not been even conceived yet.”

The 13 students, who are scholarship recipients under the ACP-EU grant, graduated with a Diploma in Dance on 20 November 2023. They will now join the VOU Conservatorium of Dance, making them the most highly, locally trained dance professionals in the Pacific region, completing over 1,600 hours of dance studio class time in a wide genre of dances, including iTaukei meke, Bollywood, jazz, hip-hop, ballet and contemporary dance, to name a few.

SPC Deputy Director General Science and Capability, Dr Paula Vivili said: “Times change, and culture evolves, but one thing that does not change is how we use our dances to tell our stories. Guided by principles of artistic entrepreneurship, of making passion your paycheck, of sustainable and fulfilling careers, is bound to drive you to success.”

He congratulated VOU for its vision and commitment to the arts and to dance in Fiji, and for setting a high standard through the development of nationally accredited programmes which contribute to Fiji’s tourism industry.

“This is a wonderful example for the rest of the region on how locally led and driven companies can make a difference. The cultural and creative industries remain underdeveloped in the region with very limited support or resources. VOU is recognised as a leading institution that is home-grown and is playing a key
role in helping to shape and strengthen the arts sector through focused training and education. VOU is creating viable career pathways for young artists, dancers, and other employment opportunities within the value chain of the performing arts,” Dr Vivili said.

Explaining the components of the course, Mrs Soro said: “This Diploma in Dance took many years of curriculum development under the mentorship of the University of Auckland dance department. [We] then [had] to fulfil the rigorous process of having our level six tertiary diploma program accredited through the Fiji Higher Education Commission.

“The recognition of this diploma by the Fiji Higher Education Commission puts it alongside any other subject that is taught at a tertiary level in Fiji, such as law, accounting or medicine.”

Part of the curriculum also involves dance analysis presentations, development of business proposals and pitches, choreography and improvisation.

VOU also seeks to empower women and youth, who often face significant barriers in pursuing careers in the cultural and creative industries. By providing equal opportunities and supporting marginalised communities, VOU is bridging gender and generational gaps in the sector.

VOU Conservatorium of Dance 2023 Valedictorian, Adi Senibuli Kula Vatuwaliwali is one such example. “We have been gifted with talent and blessed with opportunities. Now it is our turn to use this. To dance and keep dancing, to keep pushing so that one day in the near future, a kid can say, ‘I want to be a dancer’, and not be questioned at all. We are using our gifts, our talents and our skills, to build something that will live past us. Something more precious than any diamond. A future. A future so bright and big and all ours,” 24-year-old Adi Kula said.

Over 100 youth applied for admission into the course and of these, 30 were invited to an intensive one-week trial to experience the rigour and training required to work as a professional dancer.

Of these 30 potential students, 20 were selected and awarded the ACP-EU funded scholarship. Of the 20 selected, only 13 were able to fulfill all the requirements of the demanding course and graduate with the Diploma in Dance.

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