To celebrate Natalie Weir’s 10th anniversary as Artistic Director of Queensland’s Expressions Dance Company (EDC), she is joining forces with Hong Kong’s City Contemporary Dance Company (CCDC) to present a triple bill called 4Seasons at QPAC. The program features new works by Weir, CCDC’s Assistant Artistic Director Dominic Wong, and Helpmann Award winning choreographer and dancer Kristina Chan. It will be performed by 20 dancers from both EDC and CCDC.

4Seasons is part of EDC’s five-year Chinese Australian Dance Exchange Project, which has seen the company collaborate with three Chinese companies. Featuring music from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and by Max Richter, it will play at QPAC, June 14 – 22, after opening in Hong Kong. Natalie Weir spoke to Limelight about the project.

Natalie Weir with the dancers from Expressions Dance Company. Photograph courtesy of Expressions

 4Seasons is part of the Chinese Australian Dance Exchange, established in 2015. How did that begin?

I met a Chinese man called Willy Tsao at a festival in Korea. He was the Artistic Director of three companies in China – one in Hong Kong, one in Beijing, and one in Guangzhou. We talked about working together back then, and we worked with his Beijing company and it came here for the Brisbane Festival. And then we were starting to talk about doing it again with another company, and decided we would make it into a more formalised thing so that over five years we would work with his three companies and perform in each other’s cities, and exchange dancers and choreographers so it became an in-depth, meaningful conversation with these Asian companies.

When did you meet Dominic Wong? 

Dominic, I met late last year. We started to collaborate with the CCDC, and last October we went over to Hong Kong for me to create a work to unite the two companies together. And that’s when I met Dominic who is the assistant artistic director of CCDC, and also Raymond Wong who is the company’s Managing Director. Willy Tsao had put Dominic forward as a choreographer, and so we decided that Dominic would come and create a work on EDC while Kristina Chan, who was born in Hong Kong and lives in Australia, who we’ve worked with before, would create a work for CCDC. Then I would create a work for the dancers of both companies and we would join them together for a triple bill.

How many dancers are there?

There are 12 dancers from Hong Kong and six from Expressions, so 18 dancers.

The dancers are obviously learning from each other and from the different choreographers. Are there two quite different styles coming together?

Yes, it’s quite beautiful. It’s great that the EDC dancers are working with Dominic. He has a very different aesthetic to what we do, which they’re finding really challenging but really exciting. The Asian dancers are very different from the Australian dancers as well. The Asian dancers tend to be a little bit smaller and they move really, really fast and they’re very fluid and very flexible. Australian dancers are much taller, and they move big. They eat space up and tend to move a little bit slower because of their size, but they’re also fluid. So when you put the two together which I have done in my piece, they’re totally interactive. Each of the Australian dancers partners with one of the Asian dancers and you get this beautiful mix, and each dancer takes on qualities from the other dancer and so we’re starting to discover a new language. It’s beautiful to watch them work because the Australian dancers don’t speak any Chinese, they’re starting to learn a little bit, and some of the Chinese dancers speak a bit of English but they seem to be able to communicate without talking. I guess that’s the beautiful language of dance, isn’t it?

Did you talk about whether the works would share a theme? 

I really wanted to do a 4Seasons because of the music of Vivaldi and also Max Richter, I find it really beautiful. So I put forward the idea with the other choreographers, would they be interested in using the themes of Four Seasons for their work. Kristina has approached it more from a sense of climate change. Dominic, initially, was talking about the differences in the seasons in Hong Kong and then in Australia. And now his work’s shifted a little bit into relationships through this. It’s quite moving in terms of what he’s created. My work is about the seasons –the seasons of a life, the life of a couple, the storms of summer, the ageing and wisdom of winter, the eternal youth of spring. I think it will be a beautiful evening, it will all kind of push the idea around in different ways.

Stylistically are all three very different? 

I think so. Each of the choreographers has their distinct language and then of course we’re responding to the dancers. Dominic is responding to my dancers, and he’s saying most of his choreographic work has been on the CCDC dancers who he knows so well. This is one of the first times he’s worked with an outside group and he’s found it so inspiring and has really worked on the bodies in front of him. The dancers here have had input into the creation of the movement, which I think is really good and he’s found extremely satisfying.

This year is your tenth with Expressions?

Yes, this is my tenth year, can you believe it? I look back, I’ve been associated with this company really since I was 18 so I go back a lot longer than that. But yes, my tenth year as artistic director which I think is a milestone. My youngest son was not even quite walking when I started, and now he’s in grade five.

How have you found it watching the company develop over that time?

It’s been extremely satisfying. I think we’ve had some beautiful initiatives happening, and the success of the signature works and the relationship with QPAC, all of these things have been built and are working successfully, so I’m very proud of it. And most of all I’m proud of the connection I’ve had with all the dancers that I’ve worked with during this time. Some of them are still here with me, we’ve been through a lot together and I just feel blessed to have worked so closely with such incredible artists.

4Seasons plays at The Playhouse Theatre, QPAC, June 14 – 22