This pas de deux has been years in the making.
Expressions Dance Company (EDC)’s Artistic Director, Natalie Weir, and long-serving company dancer, Elise May, are formalising their symbiotic relationship as Elise takes on the role of Assistant to the Artistic Director.
“When I’m not here, she’s the boss,” Natalie says of Elise’s promotion. The senior dancer and arresting red-head is now officially Natalie’s right-hand, assisting her in the rehearsal studio, while learning what it takes to be an Artistic Director and choreographer.
“I just feel like it’s an incredible opportunity that not many dancers get,” Elise says. “I’m really excited.”Image © Samara Sutton-Baker
Elise’s promotion is already in full swing. She is busy in the studio putting the final touches on her own work 'Written On The Body', which will be presented by EDC as part of their quadruple bill, 'Propel'. Interestingly, Elise’s work investigates how the connections we share with other people shape us and change the course of our lives; a thematic that feels particularly poignant and timely considering her recent promotion. Elise and Natalie’s long history has undoubtedly shaped their lives and the work they make, leading them this highlight in their working relationship.
“Elise is the one I’ve worked the longest with and that relationship between us is really special,” Natalie explains. “I hardly have to say a word to Elise when we’re creating in the studio now; she reads my mind. We call it the 'Elise moment' – and it always comes.”
And while their relationship has evolved, it seems there was always a special connection between the two artists. Elise caught Natalie’s eye during their first encounter at QUT where Natalie was choreographing a piece for the second-year dance students.Image © Samara Sutton-Baker
“She was amazing even back then,” Natalie remembers. “She had a starring role. She did a gorgeous solo en pointe. I remember it really quite well, that she stood out – not just because of her technique; it’s because of her quality.”
It seems the feeling was mutual.
“I remember it being a profound experience,” Elise says. “She (Natalie) really had a collaborative approach. I’d never worked in that way. It gave me a taste of what it could be like to work in the industry. It was probably one of the deciders for me to actually continue and make a go of it.”
Natalie’s influence clearly didn’t end there. As the pair continued to work together at EDC over the past eight years, Natalie continued to impact on Elise’s aesthetic and process; the fruit of which can be seen in 'Written on the Body'.Image © Samara Sutton-Baker
“In this case, I think the influence is strong”, Elise explains. “Natalie’s signature is the connection between people, and that bleeds through in a really physical form of partnering. And I play with that, there’s an undertone of that, but then it has a quality of its own – its own voice and aesthetic.”
Natalie wholeheartedly agrees with Elise: “That’s what this season of 'Propel' is about – it is really about giving choreographers the opportunity to develop the voice that they’ve already got.”
'Propel' will also feature the work of three vastly different choreographers including Lisa Wilson, Amy Hollingsworth and Xu Yiming. “It will be quite eclectic, but united by the overarching signature of the company, which is putting the movement forward as the utmost important and also theatrical scene about human beings. And all of the works do touch on that – they’re not abstract. People can relate to the works and see people they may even recognise, or feelings that they’ve had themselves.”
“You’re right,” Elise echoes. “There is a human element and an emotional terrain that they all touch on.”
All of the choreographers are also working with additional visual elements, such as projection, lighting installation to complement the physicality and its investigation of effect, emotion and humanity.
“I see this season as maybe attracting a younger crowd – people who are interested in a bit more investigative or edgy ideas. Therefore, we’re doing it here at the Judith Wright Centre which I think is great for that kind of slightly more experimental kind of work.” For Natalie, 'Propel' is critical to developing contemporary dance artists and audiences.
“Part of my passion is to give opportunities to emerging choreographers”, she says. “If choreographers don’t get a place to practice their art and to have their work seen, then we’re not going to develop the new breed of the future artistic directors and choreographers.”
Under Natalie’s guidance, Elise May might just be part of this talented new breed of contemporary choreographers.
'Propel' takes place from 3-11 March at Judith Wright Centre Of Contemporary Arts.