ADC’s Artistic Director Amy Hollingsworth: Pushing interdisciplinary boundaries with intelligence and empathy

Australasian Dance Collective in Amy Hollingsworth's 'Lucie In the Sky'. Photo by David Kelly.
Australasian Dance Collective in Amy Hollingsworth's 'Lucie In the Sky'. Photo by David Kelly.

To say 2023 was a successful year for Australasian Dance Collective (ADC) is an understatement. Led by Artistic Director Amy Hollingsworth, the company has pushed artistic boundaries by transforming spaces with interdisciplinary works, embracing and incorporating immersive technology, broadening creative voices, and expanding the stage for all to enjoy and experience dance for all that it offers. We are incredibly proud of what has been achieved, and for the momentum that will continue in 2024. Underpinned by intellect, curiosity and exploration, join us as we speak with Hollingsworth about her vision and endeavours to continue to create art that elevates and celebrates a myriad of voices.

Amy, congratulations on an extremely successful year! With an abundance of curiosity and creativity across multiple works, let’s start with Lucie In The Sky.

“Thank you! 2023 has been an incredible year for ADC on many levels. This year is a true exemplar of what we’re striving for as a collective — interdisciplinary collaborations, reimagining our boundaries and having a truly intergenerational focus. 

ADC's Harrison Elliott in 'Lucie In the Sky'. Photo by David Kelly.
ADC’s Harrison Elliott in ‘Lucie In the Sky’. Photo by David Kelly.

The company started the year with Lucie In the Sky, which was an ambitious full-length work harnessing a team of international and interstate collaborators. Delving into the worlds of dance, drones and research, Lucie In the Sky saw the drones utilised in a very different way to their usual artistic application of swarm and spectacle, but rather we used nuanced coding to imbue each of the drones with a ‘humanness’.

We also collaborated with World of Drones Education to create an extensive education resources curriculum mapped for both STEM and arts students while working very closely with the School of Cybernetics at Australian National University on a research project focused on our interactions and relationships with autonomous systems. 

Lucie In the Sky premiered at QPAC in May, and then headlined the Uncharted Territory Festival in Canberra in July, which was a fantastic opportunity to connect with a very different audience.”

Lucie In the Sky toured and included six dancers, five drones and endless emotions. How did art and technology work together in this and what was the development process to achieve the final outcome? 

Lucie In the Sky was approximately six years in the making, that is in terms of development of the relationships, deep dives into anthropological viewpoints, deep dives into understanding the technological capacities and also patience while waiting for the drone technology to arrive at a certain point in its evolution. We had to wait for drones that were lightweight and safe enough to be flown in very close proximity to the performers so that we didn’t need extensive safety measures like heavy netting or protective wear. Otherwise, how would we create a work where we felt that the drones possessed a personality, were capable of human emotion and had a connection with the dancers, if they had to be completely separated from one another? 

So, not only was there a lot of patience involved, but there was a lot of craft around the creation of the work – every single time one of the drones moved on the stage, in any scene, it had an extensive list of anchor points and algorithms behind all of its activity. It was very time-consuming – it was an incredibly laborious process, but it was a labour of love because it meant that every nuance of each drone was carefully considered. It united the entire creative team, in our pursuit of imbuing and endowing them with a sense of humanity. 

The goal was to have the five drone characters seem like they possessed human emotions – each having a specific personality. Much of this relied on the power of the company artists as performers. In order for the drones to truly seem alive and emotional the dancers had to endow them and bring the audience on the journey with them. The success of Lucie In the Sky depended heavily on the dancers collaborating with the tech to achieve the final result. 

The final outcome was a reflection on the need for connection being ingrained in the human condition. With Lucie In the Sky, I wanted to ask, with our inextricable link to technology, what does empathy mean now and into the future?”

Salamander had a successful run and received an impressive response. How did this immersive experience transform the performance space? 

“After Lucie In the Sky, we moved into the final creative development and world premiere of Salamander – an incredible full-length work described as a dance-theatre visual feast. For Salamander, we saw a warehouse at Brisbane’s Northshore transformed into a fully immersive, climate-fiction dream-like world. 

It was such a privilege to work with the world-renowned creative Maxine Doyle on this work. It pushed the company in new ways and truly fit with our ethos of reimagining boundaries. Maxine’s collaborator and co-creator, designer Es Devlin, is famous for her incredible works of scale, and she created an epic installation consisting of labyrinthian and kinetic sculptures to live within a flooded landscape which was inhabited by the cast.

J.G. Ballard’s prophetic science fiction, climate fiction novel, The Drowned World, together with the idea of a last supper, became the conversation point between Maxine and Es and led to Salamander being both a response to the global climate crisis and a desperate celebration of our human animal selves.”

ADC has a distinctive ability to draw the audience in and interact with them, and this was also evident in Jack Lister’s Halcyon. His vision to use film projections and artificially generated images in his work created dynamic depth and texture in a visually arresting manner.  What other elements were incorporated to offer the audience a unique experience?

“Straight off the back of Salamander, we moved into Halcyon by Jack Lister. He melded the worlds of dance, electronic music live-feed cameras, film and lighting to reimagine the era of 1940s cinema. 

In creating the world for Halcyon, Jack utilised the Brisbane Powerhouse in a completely new and fresh way – all seating removed, and two asymmetrical staging decks placed strategically within the glorious space of the Powerhouse. He also then used the infamous exposed brick wall as a spectacular canvas for stunning projections and live camera feed. 

Within the work, Jack blended the high tension of film noir classics with the high glamour of MGM song and dance classics to create a dark, thrilling, sometimes absurd but always absorbing whodunit.

The work is vivid and exciting, ripe with intrigue and possesses the richness of plotlines and characters of a bygone era. Each night, the audience was invited into the performance space. The hierarchy between performer and audience was dissolved and a shared understanding was built. This perfectly represents the collective’s commitment to redefining boundaries and reimagining the ways we can connect with audiences. 

Jack is an extraordinary artist. He is a gifted performer, communicating with an inspiring physicality, but he also possesses quick intelligence and immense curiosity. His breadth of skills and interests has resulted in a unique and compelling choreographic voice — a maker who is able to coalesce dance, music, wit and irreverence into truly exhilarating experiences for audiences. I have watched him flourish as a creative for many years now, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to have commissioned him for this piece, his first full-length work.”

It’s been a productive year, too, for the Youth and Mature Ensemble. What have they been up to?

“Alongside the company’s mainstage work, our Youth Ensemble delivered two extraordinary performance seasons – Succession and Echo. Succession is a platform geared around nurturing the Ensemble member’s choreographic skills. They created three new works that were self-devised and were joined by the students of Brisbane State High School, performing an excerpt of my work, Arc. Their annual season, Echo, saw two wonderful new works by Riannon McLean and Courtney Scheu and featured a guest performance by the youth company AUSTI from NSW.

The Mature Ensemble also brought their performative prowess to the fore in Constellations by Liesel Zink. The three-show season saw performers ranging from 50-80 years of age truly shine in the work.”

How has 2023 been different to previous years? 

“This year really feels like it abundantly articulates the vision for the collective and shows the momentum we have worked so hard to achieve. I’m proud of the entire collective – we are small yet mighty, we are committed to elevating a myriad of voices, and we push ourselves in terms of what dance can become and how we connect with our audiences.

When I reflect on my tenure as Artistic Director, every year for the company has held so many different treasures, but 2023 feels like we have hit our full stride. To see the collective take on, and excel in, bringing three exceptional full-length works to fruition this year with such a broad collective of collaborators is exhilarating.”

The Youth Ensemble is a fantastic pathway for young dancers. Can you give us a glimpse into how the program enriches and inspires the next generation of artistic voices? 

“Now in its fifth year, our Youth Ensemble is a program that enhances the dancers’ learning and capabilities by encouraging a strong focus on their individual development. We extend technique through skills workshops, and there is an emphasis on the importance of communication as an ensemble, as well as the implementation of creative habits to build confidence and encourage curiosity and exploration.

Our program runs over three terms, developed alongside the ADC company calendar and features two performance seasons. The Youth Ensemble’s signature season, Echo, sees our young dancers perform in dance works created specifically for them by Australian choreographers, and we highlight the talents of young creatives and designers. 

The second performance opportunity, Succession, is created in collaboration with the ADC Company Artists who mentor the Youth Ensemble’s creative and performative skills.”

Conversely, it is incredibly refreshing to see a platform for a mature ensemble. How are physical and artistic curiosities nurtured here? 

“I am immensely proud of this element of the collective. It was born in response to several things – to illustrate that dance can be for everybody, that it is about moving joyously with creative freedom. It was also a response to an invisibility that I feel has the potential to develop around people as they grow older, and I wanted to make sure that we are promoting visibility and inclusion for artists of all ages and all abilities.

Our Mature Program is aimed at those 50-plus, facilitating a range of movement practices, fostering a sense of community, and promoting healthy living and positive ageing. We tailor our program to invigorate and inspire, emphasising the development of physical and creative skills in a welcoming, inclusive and stimulating environment.

The benefits of dance on your physical and mental health are well-documented, and we encourage participants to reconnect with their bodies, challenge themselves and explore the power of their creativity.”

ADC's 'Lucie In the Sky'. Photo by David Kelly.
ADC’s ‘Lucie In the Sky’. Photo by David Kelly.

2024 is just around the corner. What can we expect to see on the slate? 

“Whilst I cannot reveal all of our 2024 program yet, as certain elements need to be kept under wraps for now, we will kick off the year with THREE at Brisbane Powerhouse in March, as part of the brilliant OHM Festival. It will feature two new world premiere works by Alisdair Macindoe and Jenni Large, both of whom are absolutely thrilling and unique choreographers. 

Alongside the two new commissions, we will be presenting Tiny Infinite Deaths by Naarm based maker and performer Amber McCartney. This invitation for an independent artist to present a short work will become a feature of this annual program, further exemplifying our commitment to a plurality of voices. 

We are also thrilled to announce the launch of First Collective Residencies for established and emerging First Nations choreographers and dancers, in partnership with BlakDance.

The two-year project will host eight leading First Nations guest artists, including Raymond Blanco, Vicki Van Hout, Yolande Brown, Jasmin Sheppard, Joel Bray, Katina Olsen, Karul Projects and Amrita Hepi as Resident Choreographers.

Each choreographer will explore their artistic practice, working with an ensemble of eight dancers: the six ADC company artists, as well as two roles for First Nations dancers for each residency and will include masterclasses for local artists to connect with, and learn from, the guest artists.”

What is your vision for ADC in 2024, and what are you most excited about? 

“My vision is the elevation and celebration of a myriad of voices – I believe if you are going to make art for many people, then make it with many people. The diversity of our activity next year exemplifies our attitude as a collective. From mainstage work presenting multiple choreographers, composers and designers, to interstate touring, to an interdisciplinary new full-length creation, to our Youth and Mature programs.

And to wrap up a huge year, in November, we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the inception of the company – launching our 2025 program that pays tribute to such a milestone year. I cannot wait to continue the momentum of 2023, and to share another brilliant year with our audiences.”

By Renata Ogayar of Dance Informa.

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