Company Information for StudentsINCLUDING ACOMPANY OVERVIEW, ANSWERS TO THE MOST , AND OF CHOREOGRAPHIC PROCESS.This student information package is an introduction to Expressions Dance Company. It includes an overview of the Company, a brief insight into the choreographic process of the Artistic Director Maggi Sietsma AM, interviews with Maggi Sietsma and answers to some of the most frequently asked questions of Expressions Dance Company. Expressions has made a considerable impact on the local, national and international artistic scene. Expressions has produced a large amount of work with many different Australian artists and there are numerous places you can find information about the Company should you wish to undertake more in depth research. Some of these places are listed in the Library Resources section of this website
Company Aims and Objectives
Company Operating Philosophy
General Manager – Abel Valls
Artistic Director – Maggi Sietsma
Associate Artistic Director – Justin Rutzou
Dance-in-Education Dancers – Hannah Kelly and Richard Causer
Production Manager – Nick Tomlin
Communication and Education Officer – Michelle Oxenham
Administrative Assistant – Diane Leith
Expressions Dance Company is a company limited by guarantee, founded in 1984 by Artistic Director, Maggi Sietsma and General Manger/Composer, Abel Valls. It is Brisbane’s only professional contemporary dance company.
In January 1985, the Company had its debut performance at the Lyric Theatre, as part of the Australian Society for Education in the Arts national conference. Here they performed Snow Drops, choreographed by Maggi Sietsma. Since then, the Company’s repertoire has included many original works by Maggi Sietsma as well as works by other prominent Australian choreographers, including Graeme Watson, Jonathan Taylor, Margaret Wilson, Guy Detot, John Nobbs, Jacqui Carrol, Natalie Weir and Don Asker.
As well as its main company, Expressions has a separate touring team of three dancers that travels throughout the regional centres of Queensland performing primary and high school shows as part of Expressions’ dance-in-education program.
Interview with Maggi Sietsma, Expressions Artistic Director
How do you create your works?
With great difficulty! No seriously it is a process rather like weaving. It is slow and collaborative and I would need to write a thesis to explain it in depth. Every work is different and the process changes to accommodate the new theme.
Describe the stylistic features of your choreography?
The stylistic features of my choreography are better described by others. But I guess I do use text/voice/utterings; the work is layered so that several meanings can emerge not just one. The human condition, or comments on the human condition, are always prominent; and there is fusion and interplay between abstract and theatrical. Cinematic.
What choreographic methods are used by the Company? Does the Company take influences from any other sources?
All and any method, devise, idea, process can be used. Nothing is fixed. Film inspires me and I have used montage, close up and other filmic processes in my works.
What is your current artistic vision for Expressions?
My current artistic vision for the Company, involves an interplay and fusion of abstraction and theatricality. The work is in effect totally dependant on the interaction between the interpretative artists and the choreographer/director. The acquisition of a dynamic choreographic language which can translate the semantics of our contemporary world is part of my ongoing choreographic research. It is logical therefore, that in the Company’s evolutionary process, the notion of teaching/training remains one of its fundamental axes.
Skill transference can be approached from many angles. Expressions does not believe in only developing the physical aspects of training but rather, invites a reflexive approach to Contemporary Art. After all, we can make so many observations and discoveries through the language of painters, writers, musicians and other contemporary artists. The Company orientates its activities along three axes: Techniques, Pedagogy and Creation. Through these axes, the Company continues to introduce and encourage a new audience for Contemporary Dance.
Who have been your greatest artistic influences throughout the years?
Artists like Jennifer Flowers and composer Abel Valls have a great influence on my work through their honesty and collaboration. No one choreographer stands out as being a major influence although I do admire the work of French choreographers Jean Claude Gallotta and Maguy Marin.
How did you begin your dance career?
I studied dance at a local ballet school in Narrabeen until I won a scholarship to the Scully Boravansky School of Dancing. I successfully passed all R.A.D. ballet examinations including the prestigious Solo Seal and then studied at the Australian Ballet School in Melbourne in 1968/69. I graduated as top student and joined the Australian Ballet Company for its 1970 American Tour which starred Rudolf Nureyev. This was the start of my professional career.
Why did you make the transition to choreographer?
I transitioned to choreography because as a performer in ballet companies I always felt I was portraying roles or characters that had very little to do with the reality that I was experiencing as a young woman in the 70’s. I wanted to be involved in the creative process and not just have works imposed on me. I needed to collaborate and share experiences and not just be told what to do. Choreographing my own works and collaborating with other artists seemed the perfect vehicle for me.
What is to be gained most by collaborating on a dance work? Were there any drawbacks or negative aspects?
I think for me, creating a dance work is always a collaborative effort and by collaboration you can get different peoples ideas and visions. But whilst I collaborate enormously, it is my vision that drives the work, so I make the final decisions and I’m the final arbiter of what is presented on stage.
The negative things about collaboration can be in terms of time frames. For example if a designer is running behind schedule that can have a very negative impact on the dance because you don’t have enough time to develop things further. For example, if I’m going to be using a prop that moves around a space, I need to have it in the rehearsal studio so it can become a seamless part of the work rather that something just added at the end. Also if the people (collaboration) don’t share the same aesthetic vision this can lead to artistic clashes and become very difficult. So it’s very complex, but I find working collaboratively a very positive approach.
Why do you use text, characterisation, and theatrical elements in your work rather than just dance?
My choreographic evolution which has resulted in “dance theatre” has arisen through my boredom with pure dance. I have personally explored as far as possible, abstract dance and movement for movement sake. Using text in dance was a natural progression for me. I really like to create works that have some emotional and intellectual depth. I need to feel challenged and I feel that having multiple layers creates works that can resonate at many levels and people of all ages and walks of life can become engaged.
When was the Company founded?
Expressions Dance Company is a company limited by guarantee, founded in November 1984 by Founding Artistic Director, Maggi Sietsma and General Manger/Composer, Abel Valls. It is Brisbane’s only professional contemporary dance company.
In January 1985 the Company had its debut performance at the Lyric Theatre, as part of the Australian Society for Education in the Arts national conference. Here they performed Snow Drops, choreographed by Maggi Sietsma. Since then, the Company’s repertoire has included many original works by Maggi Sietsma as well as works by other prominent Australian choreographers, including Graeme Watson, Jonathan Taylor, Margaret Wilson, Guy Detot, John Nobbs, Jacqui Carrol, Natalie Weir and Don Asker.
What government funding do you get?
Expressions receives support from Arts Queensland and the Australia Council for the Arts. The amount is not fixed and changes.
How do you select professional dancers?
Usually by inviting the dancer to do company class over a period of one week and extensive interviewing.
Your dancers range in age and experience. What qualities do you look for in your dancers?
Intelligence, courage, good personality, sense of humour, dedication, commitment, hard working and full of potential.
How do the dancers get into their characters when rehearsing a show?
(answered by Ryan Males, Expressions Main Company Dancer.)
How did the initial concept for Virtually Richard3 come about?
Usually in my work I develop the narrative myself, this time I decided that I would like to do a work based on someone else’s narrative throughline, where a script had already been developed. You see a choreographer is also usually a playwright, because they develop the narrative, the script, in fact everything from beginning to end. As this was going to be a large work I thought it might be interesting to take a script that had already been established and create a dance work out of it. So in one sense I have done something that is unusual for me, and that is working from someone else’s thematic story line.
Were you always interested in Shakespeare or was it Richard III in particular?
Yes, I’ve always been interested in Shakespeare’s writing and I thought it would be great for me to work with a Shakespearean play and explore his language and the complexity of his writing. I didn’t want to do Romeo and Juliet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream; they are works that have already been done many times by numerous dance companies. So I thought I would like to tackle something that no other dance company, that I’m aware of has ever tried before, so that’s why I chose Richard III.
Did the initial concept change once you started rehearsals?
The concept is always fluid in my work and originally I didn’t really want the piece to work in a linear sense at all because I very rarely work that way. However, because the work of Shakespeare is so complex I found that I had to work in a linear way. I had to go from beginning to end just as the structure of the play is decided, rather than moving backwards and forwards.
How did the character of Richard stimulate you in the creation of Virtually Richard3?
The character of Richard is what made me decide to do the play. The incredible power of Richard’s character is what fascinates me most. I feel almost manipulated or compelled by Shakespeare to admire Richard, even when objectively I know that he is not at all admirable. A classic example of an attractive wicked rogue, Richard in this work has no need of love or pity, he is completely self centered and cares for no one. He lusts after danger, excitement and personal power. Cruel and hypocritical, he chooses to be a villain and revels in his choice.
Richard has traditionally been portrayed as a very ruthless, ugly character, what other characteristics have you explored in the work and why?
Obviously the numerous character traits of Richard have given me a rich emotional palette to work with and they’re the characteristics that have driven the play. Other than the ruthless and the ugly, there is his intelligence and humour, his determination and energy, all of which I’ve tried to push forward.
Have you chosen to emphasise any particular themes and if so for what reason?
I guess in a sense, being a female choreographer, I have looked at the effect or what I would assume would be the effect of Richard’s plotting and scheming on the females in the play. For example there is a scene in the play, Act IV, Scene I where the mother of the princes, one of the daughters and the grandmother – Richard’s mother –go to the tower to see the princes who have been imprisoned by Richard. In the play its only a very short scene, but I’ve actually dug into that and made quite a large scene about the frustration, the anxiety, the resignation, the anger and the grief that those women are going through. I’ve embellished that particular scene because of the effect that it gave me on reading it. Being the mother of a child it made me want to look further into that scene. It’s not the play from a female perspective but there are areas in it that I thought touched humanity and I wanted explore that.
Is this because as opposed to his other play’s, in Richard III Shakespeare hasn’t really written any female roles as such?
In Richard III, the characters are really only sketched apart from that of Richard and some of the more prominent male roles. So I thought I’d like to flesh out the female roles a bit and in fact I’ve more or less only sketched the other males in the play, so I’ve twisted it a little that way.
How much has Shakespeare’s writing or staging influenced your work?
Obviously the writing has had a real influence on the work. The staging hasn’t influenced it at all. His staging hasn’t influenced it at all because he wrote a play in the Elizabethan times for a very set audience and a set environment and this is a dance work so I need to use the whole stage and the stage needs to change. I still have to ask, like he does, for the audience at times to make imaginative leaps. For example in the scenes with the campsites, in the Shakespearean staging they had two tents on either side of the stage and the audience were asked to imagine that they were miles apart. I’m asking the audience to make those sort of leaps as well but no, I haven’t followed his staging in any way shape or form, but I have followed his structure and I have used parts of his text.
It’s usually Richard that uses the text. At times I have used just one or two words of the text to show his character development and I’m also using some of the text written and projected on a video screen. I didn’t really want to use a lot of Shakespearean language, because I find that it’s a very difficult and complex language but the odd word here or there is fine. The text that the dancers all use is Shakespeare’s.
I think for me, creating a dance work is always a collaborative effort and by collaboration you can get different peoples ideas and visions. But whilst I collaborate enormously it is my vision that drives the work, so I make the final decisions and I’m the final arbiter of what is presented on stage.
The negative things about collaboration can be in terms of time frames. Perhaps if a designer is running behind schedule that can have a very negative impact on the dance because you don’t have enough time to develop things further. For example, if I’m going to be using a prop that moves around a space, I need to have it in the rehearsal studio so it can become a seamless part of the work rather that something just added at the end. So it’s very complex, but I find working collaboratively a very positive approach.
Do you think that your process has changed in any way during the creation of Virtually Richard3 and if so, how?
EXCERPT FROM PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES AN ARTICLE BY MAGGI SIETSMA PUBLISHED IN SMARTS,
When Abel Valls and I started Expressions, our aim was to provide a new avenue of work for excellent young graduate performers and senior artists. I also wanted to create new, exciting and interesting works that focused on contemporary issues relevant to society. In my work I aim for dynamic rhythms, a compelling physicality and a raw emotional honesty that navigates the currents of our contemporary society. The Company produces an ever shifting body of work that is a moving document of our time.
To evoke powerful imagery, I work with dancers in a collaborative way. I like to elicit the artists’ input and invite each dancer to assist in the development of their own narrative. I did this with this year’s major new work, Vanities Crossing, that had it’s world premiere in Brisbane on 19 August 1999. Vanities Crossing is about narcissism and relationships in the 1990s. I was interested to see the imagery the artists came up with as they developed the relationships between the characters as I plotted their journeys. This process requires a great sensitivity to enable us all to share in the quest. I don’t know of any other dance company in Australia that uses this same type of process.
Expressions plans to increase its international exposure to go more global. While we have achieved national and international recognition through our extensive touring program both in Australia and overseas, I am now ambitious for the Company to push more boundaries. The Company has performed in 9 different countries around the world, including this year’s performances in Philadelphia and our New York debut in July at the Asian Pacific Contemporary Dance Festival. It’s great for morale to get standing ovations in places like New York and Israel or rave reviews in international magazines like Ballett International/Tanz Actuell. The international focus also includes my invitation to assist in the development of the first contemporary dance curriculum at the prestigious Beijing Dance Academy.
I am extremely interested in cross-cultural collaborations. It is a rewarding and life affirming experience. The Company has embarked on several cultural exchanges and the result is a wonderful cross-pollination of cultural influences and ideas. To dance is universal, but there is not a universal language of dance. Exploring those differences shows how similar we are. I’m very interested in the Company pushing those barriers.
EXCERPT FROM AN INTERVIEW WITH MAGGI SIETSMA ABOUT THE 1993 WORK DREAM HUNTERS.
HOW DID THE INITIAL CONCEPT FOR DREAM HUNTERS COME ABOUT?
I was doing some study for my Masters degree and I came across a lot of Manray photographs and I became curious about Surrealism. Then I heard there was to be a surrealist exhibition in Brisbane and so thought it would be interesting to create a dance work in response to the proposed Revolution By Night exhibition.
DID THE INITIAL CONCEPT CHANGE ONCE YOU STARTED REHEARSALS?
No. We always kept in mind that surrealism was the starting point for the work and we tried to keep a lot of the philosophical ideas of Surrealism underpinning the work as well as using many of the associated techniques such as collage, random movement, chance, bricolage, montage, juxtaposition etc. in our exploration of new movement.
The use of associated techniques just mentioned was one way and I immersed myself in the art work (i.e. the writings, literature, films, paintings, sculptures etc.) of the Surrealists. I also tried to comprehend in an historical sense their manifestos and philosophies, as I thought it was important for me to know and understand where they were coming from. And then I tried to work as I believed they worked i.e. intuitively. I allowed Surrealism to stimulate my creativity in a variety of ways, both visually and conceptually.
THE WORK IS BASED ON THE THEME OF POWER, IN WHAT WAY?
Power in lots of different ways – political power, sexual power, social power, psychological power.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS AS THE THEME?
Because in an historical sense the Surrealists were revolting against power, they were anti-establishment. Society at that time was going through a lot of power struggles – class struggles, political struggles with the rise of the Nazi movement etc. and I believe it (power) would be the link to hold the aural and visual elements of the work together. The scope of surrealism is immense so I needed something to confine the work and taking a theme on which to base the work did this.
Because the Surrealists created works of art that required the perceiver to respond in a personal way, I wanted to create a work in which the audience was invited to use their own imagery and personal experiences to decipher the work. Because our society tends to block off imaginative responses I wanted to ignite the audience’s senses to enable them to get in touch with their “other self” or their unconscious. Andre Breton wrote in 1921: “Surrealism is the marvellous faculty of attaining two widely separate realities without departing from the realm of our experience, of bringing them together and drawing a spark from their contact” and this is what I was trying to do.
YOU SAY DREAM HUNTERS IS A COLLABORATIVE WORK. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Collaboration is where a number of people are responsible for the creation of the work. I worked closely with a number of people including Jennifer Flowers who co-directed and Abel Valls who composed the musical score. Greg Clarke who designed the set and costumes, Frances Macken who designed the lights and of course the dancers who contributed many ideas for movement and text throughout the working process. In this process many ideas are generated but as director and choreographer I had the responsibility of sorting, sifting and deciding on what would be used and what would be discarded. Jennifer’s role was that of a dramaturge. Her main focus was to ensure that the theatrical intention was always clear (obviously her vocal coaching was also enormously important).
WHAT IS TO BE GAINED MOST BY COLLABORATING ON A DANCE WORK? WERE THERE ANY DRAWBACKS OR NEGATIVE ASPECTS?
Yes, I did enjoy collaborating, I always enjoy collaborating. What you gain is a greater pool of ideas and therefore a richer end result. In this production I don’t feel there were any drawbacks or negative aspects. However, in the past I have come across ego problems i.e. artists not wanting to compromise their ideas or pool their resources. Therefore, I am now very careful about who I collaborate with otherwise it can be a very tense and unfruitful experience.
For me, “dance theatre” is a synthesis of dance and theatre. A synthesis which is so homogenous that it results in a new form and/or language.
WHY HAVE YOU DECIDED TO WORK IN THIS WAY RATHER THAN JUST DANCE?
My choreographic evolution which has resulted in “dance theatre” has arisen through my boredom with pure dance. I have personally explored as far as possible, abstract dance and movement for movement sake. Using text in dance was a natural progression for me. I really like to create works that have some emotional and intellectual depth. I need to feel challenged.
IS THIS THE FIRST WORK YOU HAVE CREATED USING TEXT?
No. I first started using text in Dust which was created in 1989. At first just the odd word or two was included but with each work I have created since then using text, I have explored its use in greater depth and detail.
HOW HAS YOUR WORK DEVELOPED TO BRING YOU TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?
I’ve always been concerned with the human condition when creating works for Expressions. For example the first work I created for Expressions,Snow Drops, was about drug addiction. I’ve always liked purity of line but at the same time abandoning the safety of centre. By this I mean I enjoy, both kinesthetically and visually, the sense of falling off balance and recovering to a centred, balanced line.
WHAT OR WHO DO YOU FEEL HAVE BEEN MAJOR INFLUENCES ON YOUR CHOREOGRAPHIC DEVELOPMENT?
There have been many influences throughout my dance career. During my time as a performer I had the privilege to work with Anthony Tudor. His psychological dance works inspired me enormously and are perhaps a reason why I am so concerned with the human condition. The choreographic processes of Murray Louis acted as a catalyst in shaping my early choreographic development. Working in an avant garde French theatre company was also instrumental in influencing my current choreographic processes. My study of Tai Chi and Indonesian classical dance lead me to discover the world of modern dance due to their similarities in the use of gravity, breath energy and momentum. Currently I find visual art and film influence me.
DO YOU HAVE A CLEAR VISION AS TO WHERE YOUR CHOREOGRAPHIC DEVELOPMENT IS HEADED IN THE FUTURE?
Each new work I create is a voyage of discovery. I will continue my exploration of the synthesis of text and dance, for at least the next 12 months. If I knew where I wanted to go I probably wouldn’t want to do it.