Dance, Dinner and New Directions
Food is often the last thing on someone’s mind at a dinner party. Thoughts of status, power, attraction and sex are just as likely to be bubbling away between the sips of pinot gris.
In the Brisbane-based Expressions Dance Company’s The Dinner Party, all of those unspoken thoughts and desires are put on the table in a grippingly physical work of dance theatre created by choreographer Natalie Weir.
First seen in 2015 and critically acclaimed for its combination of theatricality and athleticism, The Dinner Party is touring Australia, touching down at Riverside Theatres, June 13-15.
The production, featuring six dancers, is being revived under the eye of Amy Hollingsworth, who took over from Weir as Artistic Director of Expressions at the beginning of 2019.
Before she moved to Brisbane, Hollingsworth was one of Sydney Dance Company’s leading lights, a dancer who later worked as rehearsal director for SDC leader Rafael Bonachela. She has also danced in world-renowned ensembles including the Rambert Dance Company, the Royal New Zealand Ballet, Michael Clark Company and Hofesh Shecter Company.
Hollingsworth says she loves life in sub-tropical climes and working in a smaller company. “A smaller ensemble creates a real sense of family and connection. Expressions is like a family and that is one of its strengths.”
The Dinner Party is a product of the company’s tight-knit structure and adventurous mindset.
“And it’s typically Natalie in that it’s balletic and very athletic,” Hollingsworth says of her predecessor. “She has this style that takes your breath away. You get a visceral thrill seeing bodies propelling across the space, launching themselves at each other. That energy and that intricacy is a real hallmark of the company.”
Above all, it’s a very human scenario, Hollingsworth adds. “Six people at a table is something we can all relate to.”
The party’s host, she explains, is a manipulator. “I wouldn’t describe him as Machiavellian exactly, but he’s used to being in a position of great power and status and he’s used to controlling people around him.”
Also present are the host’s wife and characters known only as The Lover, The Rival and The Wannabe.
“Then there’s a female character who digs deep and finds her inner party girl after a glass or two of champagne,” Hollingsworth says. “The power balance shifts imperceptibly throughout the piece until something quite significant happens – a complete change of dynamic towards the end that I can’t give away.”
The world has changed since the work debuted and the darker currents in The Dinner Party seem amplified in 2019, adds Hollingsworth. “It’s always interesting to see how society changes around a work and there are scenes in the piece that read quite differently to me now – especially when it comes to the manipulation of one of the female characters by a male character.
“In this age of the #MeToo campaign, it’s something you can’t help but notice and I’m finding that an interesting prospect for this reimagining of the work.”
Hollingsworth’s revival of The Dinner Party features two former Sydney Dance Company colleagues, Bernhard Knauer and Josie Weise, both of whom left Sydney to live and work in Queensland in 2018.
“It’s an incredible and fortuitous happening,” says Hollingsworth. “Josie called me one day and asked if she could come along and do some classes. And I was like, well, you could … but I have a better idea.
“And Bernhard bought a place up here in Maleny as a tree-change thing with his partner. He thought he was going to retire but I suggested to him that would be a shame because he’s such a beautiful dancer … and now he’s decided to keep dancing. It’s wonderful.”
Moving forward, Hollingsworth says her artistic directorship of Expressions will be about cultivating dancers and choreographers.
“I’m not going to lead the company as a choreographic director. I’m going to come at it from a much more of a curatorial point of view,” she says. “My emphasis will really be on developing the dancers and choreographers around me and creating a very diverse repertoire so that a really broad cross-section of people can find their way into contemporary dance and see something that speaks to them.
“When you get more diverse artistic voices on the stage, you give bring a more diverse audience to see it and enjoy it.”
The Dinner Party plays at Riverside June 13-15