Holly Doyle took the road less travelled to find her place at Sydney Dance Company, discovers Geraldine Higginson.
When I meet Holly Doyle late one afternoon, she has spent a full day in class and rehearsals at Sydney Dance Company’s iconic studios. Artistic director Rafael Bonachela has started choreographing Ocho, a new work that will form part of the “Orb” program opening in Sydney at the beginning of May, and choreographer Cheng Tsung-lung (the artistic director of Taiwan’s Cloud Gate 2) is soon to arrive. He will be creating a new work called Full Moon for the “Orb” program. Meanwhile the dancers are rehearsing some more familiar works in preparation for a season at the Joyce Theatre in New York.
Despite being physically tired after a strenuous day, Doyle is happy to talk about her dance training and somewhat unusual pathway to a professional career with Sydney Dance Company (SDC). Like many dancers, she seems smaller and more delicate in person than she appears on stage, and in this case the contrast is especially noticeable because of the remarkable speed and energy that draws the eye to her in performance.
Born and bred in the Sutherland Shire of Sydney, Doyle started dance classes at the Joanne Williamson Dance Academy because her older sisters danced there. As a dance student she took classes in a range of styles, but describes herself as “a jazz dancer, before making the move to Newtown High School of the Performing Arts (NHSPA)”. Attending NHSPA was a big step at the time as Doyle had just started high school and it meant significantly longer hours (training in both dance and academic studies) than a typical high school, as well as a considerable commute. But she reflects that attending NHSPA was a very positive experience, “as there were lots of performance opportunities and ‘healthy competition’ between fellow students to develop and improve their skills”.
Doyle showed promise in both classical and contemporary dance but was aware that she “definitely wanted to do contemporary dance… not ballet”. She cites Gilli O’Connell as one important teacher and mentor from her time at NHSPA – in fact it was O’Connell who sent Doyle the application form for a week-long intensive at Sydney Dance Company (SDC) for advanced students in July 2012. To Doyle’s surprise, she was accepted and this was her first real contact with the artistic staff of SDC. Although there were no contracts available, Doyle learned they were interested in her so she kept in touch. Looking back, she estimates that she attended company class several times a week for four to five months following the intensive while balancing her dance practice with open classes around Sydney. Late in 2012, she was given a three-month contract with the company (sponsored by Foxtel) during which she went on her first international tour with SDC to China and had a taste of regional touring, performing with SDC in the company's "De Novo" triple bill in early 2013.
It was an exciting time but there was still no long-term contract available, so some enterprising minds put together a crowdfunding campaign on her behalf called “Keep Holly Dancing” that incentivised people to contribute towards the cost of funding her salary by gradually revealing a video preview of Doyle performing choreography by Bonachela. This campaign successfully extended Doyle’s time with SDC and when a permanent contract eventually came up she got it. After all, she had effectively been working and performing with SDC for months.
Her highlights with the company include working with guest choreographer Jacopo Godani in Raw Models. “He wanted you to ‘investigate with intelligence’,” says Doyle, remembering his charisma and personality in the studio. Working on Gabrielle Nankivell’s Wildebeest pushed Doyle to learn more about floor technique, and she was blown away by Alexander Ekman’s Cacti, in particular the wit and the humour of this piece of dance-theatre. Artistic director and choreographer Rafael Bonachela is a continued source of inspiration and although SDC’s dancers are actively involved in the process of choreographing new work, choreography is definitely something Doyle would like to pursue more in the future. As a student at NHSPA, Doyle choreographed a contemporary work, This Bitter Earth and received awards for the piece at the Showcase National Dance Championships in Australia at the National High Schools Dance Festival in the US.
Asked what she thinks are her own strengths as a dancer, Doyle talks about her preference for rhythmic, dynamic movement. She sees a correlation between the speed and the energy of her movement now and her early experience with jazz dance and discusses how she has developed since becoming a professional dancer. “When I first joined the company (SDC) I was just hitting the shapes, now I’m finding other ways of moving and exploring the pathways, the transitional steps that link one movement to another.”
And now, after five years as a professional dancer Doyle still sees so much potential to grow and develop with the company. From the range of choreographers SDC brings in to work with their dancers, to the excitement of creating new work on a regular basis, to the touring (both international and regional) that is part of company life. Watch out for her – this girl is going places.
– GERALDINE HIGGINSON
This article was first published in the April/May issue of Dance Australia. Buy Dance Australia from your favourite magazine retailer or subscribe here, or purchase an online copy via the Dance Australia app.