By Paul Ransom of Dance Informa.
2014 marks the 30th anniversary of Brisbane’s flagship contemporary company, Expressions Dance Company. So, what’s with the bright red shoes?
Turning 30 might be considered danger time for a dancer; but for a contemporary company it’s a sign of success, of longevity and viability. For Brisbane’s much lauded and loved Expressions Dance Company (EDC), 2014 sees it nimbly pirouette into its fourth decade with confidence high and reputation well built. And, as anyone involved in the Australian dance scene will tell you, that’s no mean feat.
Indeed, EDC’s current director Natalie Weir has known the company all its life. Back in 1984 she was a founding member and was commissioned at just 18 years old to create her first work for the company. Now, as an internationally renowned and notably prolific choreographer, Weir can look back across EDC’s history not only with some pride but with a sense of clarity about what the company is; and does best.
“I think that what sets us apart is the way that we tell stories,” she declares. “They’re stories that comment on life and the human condition and use emotion as a way to navigate the audience.”
In a much drier sense, EDC is also known for its partner work and strong physicality. At the core of this is what Weir cites as the other key difference between Expressions and most other contemporary companies: the fulltime ensemble. “Not all companies have one,” she explains. “It’s very important for me that we don’t do ‘project’ work as such. There is a core group here who’ve been with me for a long time and who understand my work and who I understand. I think having that fulltime ensemble helps to create better work because we have shared history and deeper understanding.”
What this creates is a sense of continuity; an interesting counterpoint in a world suffused with dance brands that simply serve as umbrellas for projects. For Weir, Expressions is more like a band than a brand. “It’s been part of the vision of the company really. It is part of the reason I came to this company and stopped freelancing; because I felt that to make the work better and to relate more clearly to your audience, I needed this group of dancers that wanted to work in this way. Who enjoyed the movement.”
Moving forward into the year, EDC will host the second iteration of its unique Solo Festival of Dance in May, featuring its own ensemble and dancers from around the country. As Australia’s only dedicated solo dance event, it is part of the company’s broader outreach. As Weir says, “It’s important that Expressions Dance Company is an ambassador for the artform; so we’re not just hiding away doing our own thing.”
Closer to home, the company will also premiere Weir’s latest work, The Red Shoes, in July. Based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale and the Oscar winning 1948 film, Red Shoes is core dance curriculum. The work has been on Natalie Weir’s ‘development’ plate for some time and, from a company perspective, the story’s broad appeal and familiarity fits with the desire to bring new audiences to dance.
“It’s about the dance live on stage as an artform and also the outside life of this real woman and how she’s kind of struggling with her obsession with dance and how that takes over her real life,” Weir reveals. “Y’know, and that’s true to a degree because we’re all pretty passionate about what we do every day and how that affects our real lives.”
The power of the shoes and, by extension, of the dance to intrude into so-called normal life is perhaps another of those points that makes some people smile; given that life inside the cosy world of a professional dance company can seem, on the face of it, to be somewhat removed from what most of us would recognise as ordinary life.
So, how do you juggle creative and everyday life? Where is the legendary work/life balance in contemporary dance? Picking up the thread, Weir expands, “All dancers and artists that work within a company do live it. They take it home with them at night, they dream about it and it does tend to obsess them. But the beautiful thing about the dancers here is that they’re all really normal people. We’re very, very grounded; and y’know, that’s another philosophy of Expressions. We try to be gracious and open.”
At 30, Expressions Dance Company is clearly ready for the ongoing challenge of maintaining creative innovation whilst staying alive in a world that often seems fixated on the quick and the easy.
In a very real sense, Natalie Weir, it seems, is pleased to span both the creative/commercial divide and the entire life of the company. “It is a very personal thing for me,” she confesses. “I always say that choreography is not something I do, it’s something that defines who I am. And I’ve always been connected to this company. Now, as director, to be a part of its history is very special. It’s like family for me, you could say. Actually, I don’t know what I’d do without it right now.”
For more on Expressions Dance Company and tickets visit www.expressionsdancecompany.org.au
Photo (top): EDC’s SOLO Festival of Dance. Pictured Michelle Barnett. Image by Dylan Evans.