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The Creative Issue – News for Creatives | October 19, 2019

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EDC’s Artistic Director Amy Hollingsworth On The Dinner Party

EDC’s Artistic Director Amy Hollingsworth On The Dinner Party
Kaylee Randall

Expressions Dance Company brings a whole new meaning to your average dinner party.

If you caught The Host back in 2015, get ready for another helping of greed, power, status, and manipulation.

All the things we love about dinner parties, right?

Complete with a new ensemble, The Host was reworked to create The Dinner Party, where you’re invited to an elegant soiree hosted by a wealthy young man and his wife who, in truth, holds the power in their relationship.

The show premieres at QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre from 10-18 May featuring EDC dancer Jake McLarnon and special guest Lizzie Vilmanis with choreography by former Artistic Director Natalie Weir.

As the first work presented by the newly appointed Artistic Director Amy Hollingsworth, audiences can expect a relatable experience.

“So a dinner party. Who has never been to a dinner party?!” said Hollingsworth, laughing. “For Natalie, she’s always been very interested in digging into quite human situations and behaviours. I think it creates a bridge of accessibility and understanding between us and our audience.

The Dinner Party centres around desire for power, its impact on relationships, and how the motivator of status can corrupt completely,” Hollingsworth said. “What has always struck me about this work is its subtlety, and that even the smallest of interactions at the dinner table can disrupt the dynamic, shifting both the balance and perception of power so suddenly and completely.

“I find the medium of dance is profound when weaving these subtle threads, capturing the most nuanced and weighty moments of body language.”

The Dinner Party, as an artistic work, is a tribute to Weir and her legacy with EDC, giving her the special opportunity to revisit her award-winning work in The Host, reflect on it, dig a bit deeper, and bring it to an even more fruitful place.

“This first season for me as Artistic Director was very much about paying tribute to the wonderful woman that has spent a decade here before me, which is Natalie Weir,” said Hollingsworth. “I think it can be quite shocking for an audience if a company literally changes directors and all of a sudden their work changes completely. So, in moving forward with our programming, there was a combination of some really new and exciting things for later on this year but I wanted our first season to really hold that legacy for Natalie as a tribute to her.”

Hollingsworth was Rehearsal Director for The Host which proved to be a much more zoomed-in role, focused on the daily running of the company from managing the dancers’ workload to getting them exactly where they needed to be artistically and physically in a sustainable way.

“An Artistic Director has a much more of an overarching role,” said Hollingsworth. “I am a very hands-on Artistic Director. I like to be in the studio as much as possible because if I don’t feel connected to the art then I feel like I’m not stroking my creative fire. But some of the elements I’m having to take on as Artistic Director are to think very much about the goals of this company, where we want to see ourselves not only now but moving forward into the future [and] the kind of representation that we want to make of ourselves.”

Inspiration strikes Hollingsworth at the most unpredictable moments which she admitted can be quite scary for a creator.

Sometimes she’ll have vivid dreams where she wakes up having seen the dancers or a bit of lighting or a moment on stage and the idea grows outward from there.

“It can be the most random moments whether it’s in the shower or going for a walk,” Hollingsworth said. “Sometimes I’ll find myself in a coffee shop and it might be overhearing one word that’s said or just watching [the] movement of humans. I love people watching so watching people walk past me on the street, all the sudden I’ll feel like an idea is tugging on my metaphorical sleeve going, ‘Amy, I’m right here’.”

Hollingsworth is driven by a “resolve it, achieve it, and progress things by digging deep” attitude because, during her first year as a professional dancer, she broke her back and was off for 15 months.

It taught her what she was capable of and about not succeeding in spite of adversity, but because of it.

“I had to exercise profound disciple, determination, [and] tenacity to beat almost insurmountable odds to return to dance and I think that kind of tenacity is never giving up,” she said. “I don’t fear challenge or change because I know that I can just look within myself. I will never get to a point where I go, ‘I can’t manage this’. So, that skill that I built very young is something pulling forward now into a position of leadership. I’ll always be self-reflecting [and] asking how can I improve this company through leadership, my decisions, my actions.”

Becoming an Artistic Director was never in the plan for Hollingsworth but during her impressive career as a professional ballet dancer, she began to notice a curiosity for the creation of new works.

The contemporary dance world seemed to have a heavier emphasis on this kind of creation and that natural curiosity as a performer built the scaffold on which Hollingsworth’s artistic directorship is based on.

“I’ve always been interested in new work,” she said. “It’s an area I love and understand and I think passion can help you achieve pretty much anything.”

But Hollingworth’s curiosity doesn’t stop there.

In fact, she has a deep love of all kinds of art with interests ranging from visual art and film to her peers in the contemporary dance world like Crystal Pite, Alexander Ekman, Stephanie Lake of Sydney Dance Company as well as the works coming out of DanceNorth and the Australian Dance Theatre, to name a few.

“I, ironically, was always training in other areas because I was profoundly aware that dance can be taken away in an abrupt moment,” said Hollingsworth. “When I broke my back the doctors were like, ‘You might never walk again’. Because of that moment, I have studied on and off my whole career in other areas.”

Hollingsworth completed a few years of a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, she trained as a helicopter pilot and is certified in scuba diving.

“[I was] just sort of making sure that I had a Plan B or C or D,” said Hollingsworth. “I knew deep down that I wanted to stay in the arts but I wanted to make sure I had a safety net if something happened to me where my body couldn’t do it anymore – that I had other avenues available to me.”

Once she finished dancing, Hollingsworth found herself at the front of the studio more and more as rehearsal director or choreographer.

“It was only as I was there more and more frequently that I realised how much I loved it and I didn’t want to leave the dance industry. I guess I’ve become more and more clear on what I feel like arts can contribute to humanity,” she said. “I think arts are the heart of humanity. That passion and that commitment to it made it a natural progression to go, ‘Ok – the best way I can really lean into making arts important is to be an Artistic Director’.”

As a self-proclaimed patchwork of all the people she’s worked with in the past, Hollingsworth seeks guidance from mentors, both artistically, with the help of other dancers and creatives, and as a leader, with peers in executive roles to help with the new problems she’s less familiar with.

“I think people will see a real shift in the company next year when my programming really starts to take full effect – of course, never forgetting where the company has come from,” said Hollingsworth. “We [will see] the company do a lot more surprising work and take some more creative risks. I think when you have that courage to take creative risks, that’s when really exciting things can be born and so we’ll be doing a lot more work in the digital realm with science-specific work which will be really exciting.

“My vision moving forward with the company is to always look forward to the future and maintain our contemporary feel [while] really making sure we’re steeped in being present as artists. I think that without reflection on our heritage [and] knowing what this beautiful company [is and] the legacy it’s built on, we can’t really move forward as artists.”

Resilience, discipline, and determination underpinned much of her career and Hollingsworth still constantly reflects on her creative process as Artistic Director.

These traits are often what Hollingsworth looks for in other dancers, with authenticity, hard work, self-reflection, and honesty being high on her list of advice she’d give to aspiring dancers:

“If you really want to improve and to have the career that you want to have, it is very much about honesty and self-reflection. If they know the type of dancer they are, then chances are, they all have a really good idea of the type of career or the type of companies that they want to dance with. Check in with yourself [and ask], ‘Do I fit that ensemble?’ And if [you’re] not quite there yet, ‘What do I need to work on to be able to see myself there in a year or two?’

“[Be] authentic because there is only one version of you and no one else can do it quite as well as you can. That always does make you stand out.

“Know your strengths, know your weaknesses. Always play to your strengths when you’re in an environment that you need to sell yourself and then when you have the privacy and the time, you just have to do the work. The only way to get as good as you need to get is to do the work. And it’s not insurmountable. You should enjoy the work, enjoy the sweat, enjoy the investment that you’re putting into yourself. Work on the things that you really know maybe aren’t your strengths so that you can lift yourself up to a place where you can succeed.

“Always think of yourself in three ways: to work on your ability, so all of the practical physical things like strength, flexibility, control, your technique, your musicality. Then make sure you’re taking care of your creativity, so your soft skills like being spontaneous, being adaptable, being courageous, not letting fear if you’re placed in uncomfortable situations take ahold of you. And then the last thing is learning how to be sustainable. So really learning how to take care of your body, take care of your mind, take care of your heart. Because without all of those things feeling full and energised and like you’re taking care of yourself, you can’t actually demand as much of your body if you’re not in a good space in your heart or your head.”

Bringing her strong sense of curiosity, honesty, resilience into this new era of EDC, The Dinner Party is Hollingworth’s first step in moving the company forward with her own unique and profound artistic voice.

“Anyone that I’ve ever worked with, collaborated with, or worked alongside knows that I have a really profound and fierce love of the arts, and more specifically dance,” said Hollingsworth.

“So, to be in an incredible role like Artistic Director of a dance company that I have loved dearly for many years is such a huge privilege and it’s something I’m very excited about. We’re a few weeks away from opening night and I couldn’t be happier.”

The Details:

What: EDC’s The Dinner Party

When: May 10-18 in Brisbane; Touring May through June in QLD, NSW, and NT

Where: QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre

How Much: From $65 tickets found here

Anything Else: Check out EDC’s website here.

Image Credit: David Kelly