Now in it’s twentieth year, the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts (ACPA) has achieved beyond all expectations and continues to strive for even greater things for its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

At our August 19 general meeting, RQI members and guests had the pleasure of hearing from ACPA’s Board Chair Leilani Pearce and its CEO Dr Dimitri Kopanakis who spoke on fusing 50,000 years of history with contemporary performing arts education.

ACPA Board Chair Leilani Pearce

Leilani Pearce says the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts takes seriously not just its responsibility to train young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, whether they might be studying a diploma or advanced diploma, but also its role in guiding them through the pathways to further education and employment.

“The performing arts industry is a hard business to have longevity of career and so we really take seriously our responsibility to prepare young people to make it in the real world and to wrap some support around them, so they can chase their dreams,” Ms Pearce said.

And their dreams might change as they go along, but the most important thing is that they chase it,” she said.

ACPA CEO Dimitri Kopanakis

Dimitri Kopanakis has been ACPA’s CEO for around 18 months. He has a Greek background, and previously was responsible for entertainment at the world’s largest casino in Macau. As well as working in arts management he is an accomplished baritone performer.

Mr Kopanakis began by acknowledging Elders and those who, in the spirit of the educational process and over the course of many tens of thousands of years, had passed down and shared wisdom from one generation to another.

He said that the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts currently has 54 students from all over the country.

“We have students not just from your metropolitan communities and some of the broader rural communities, but we’re talking students from Pormpuraaw, Elcho Island, Palm Island. We have students from every state with the exception of Victoria and Tasmania,” he said.

“We have recruits that are very much singing the praises of ACPA, not just from their time at ACPA, but as they move on as alumni. We have Helpmann winners. We have students that have gone to take major roles in feature films, in movies, in musicals, in plays and dramatic works.

“And so from both ends of the spectrum, from a recruitment perspective as well as an output perspective, we have a significant place in the performing arts arena,” he said.

Twentieth anniversary

Mr Kopanakis said 2017 was ACPA’s twentieth operational year and next year would be its twentieth year of delivery. “Next year we’re going to see our 1000th student go through ACPA,” he said

“When you think about it, for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander entity, that is outputting such success, to have 1000 students come through its doors is quite a milestone. Not many people know that.”

Mr Kopanakis said the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts focused on dance, music and acting training.

“We are there to focus on mainstream education, but maintaining the integrity and connection to every individual’s background, being their Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander ethnicity, [and] bringing that into their education,” Mr Kopanakis said.

“We have an awareness, an understanding, a respect and a recognition for what that is, as they’re working through their program,” he said.

Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts academic staff

“We have a wonderful array of staff who are exemplars in the field.,” Mr Kopanakis said.

“Our head of dance, Bradley Chatfield is a Kamilaroi man and he’s a former Sydney Dance Company, Graeme Murphy dancer who has an incredible career an arm’s length long, and is also a Helpmann Award winner, a Green Room Award winner…he’s a wonderful mentor, exemplar and leader for the dancers.

“Nathaniel Andrew is a Yorta Yorta man, our head of music. He is again another champion. Recently back from the University of Cincinnati with a Masters in Music, probably one of Brisbane’s best session bass players and you will more than likely see him around in some prominent bands.

Mr Kopanakis said Nathaniel most recently was involved with the You’re The Voice program at Southbank Piazza where he led ACPA’s choir, backing up Isaiah Firebrace,

“And our choir was one of only two that were on stage as professional choirs that were backing up…Kate Cebrano, John Farnham and Katie Noonan,” he said.

“We have a number of other leaders in the organisation that are championing the cause across different disciplines.

“Our acting discipline is led by Dr Bridget Boyle, a Helpmann nominee, so we are aiming for the ‘creme de la creme’ at ACPA now.

“She helped us connect with quality for our acting program…we’ve been working with BIMA, we’ve been working with La Boite, we’ve been working with the Queensland Theatre Company and the list goes on,” Mr Kopanakis added.

“We focus on integrity in respect of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander storytelling, communication of story and performing arts through mainstream media, where we have a fusion of hip hop and contemporary dance with traditional elements.”

“Our musicians are composing songs and tunes, that is led by Nathaniel, that have traditional instruments and traditional themes, but within a contemporary context. Our actors are portraying wonderful stories of their own, but through mainstream media, TV, and commercials,” he said.

This is just a taste of what RQI members can discover at our general meetings. We have more exciting speakers in the pipeline and have undertaken to hold general meetings every three months.

Everyone who has an interest in reconciliation is welcome to these meetings, not just RQI members. The next meeting is scheduled for November 25 at Mitchelton Library.

Check our Event Calendar for more details soon.