Why Natalie Weir is leaving
Denise Richardson talks to Expressions's Artistic Director about her decision to leave the company.
In 2008 Natalie Weir took over as artistic director of Expressions Dance Company (EDC), succeeding its founder Maggie Sietsma. The company’s identity had been closely bound with Sietsma for 25 years, and some wondered whether it would survive without her at the helm. Financially the company was also in a perilous position with the loss of its triennial funding status. But as Sietsma herself predicted, Expressions was big enough to stand on its own, and 10 years on, as Weir herself announces she will be stepping down, any talk of the company’s demise is inconceivable.
Weir was in the middle of rehearsals for her final work for the year, Everyday Requiem, when we caught up at the EDC studios. Always warm and welcoming, she nonetheless appeared particularly calm, considering the double pressure of mounting a new work and the knowledge it would be her last as artistic director.
“I don’t think it’s quite hit me yet,” she admits. “But the good thing has been to finally tell people, as I’d been sitting on my decision for quite a while.”
Weir is quick to reassure me there are no hidden motives at play here. “I feel 10 years is a good period of time, and that I’m leaving the company in a very strong position,” she smiled. “And I’ve always worried about staying too long!
“When I started here, my little boy was only just starting to walk. Now he’s in Grade 5! My middle son is 13 and my eldest is 24. This job is all consuming, so I look forward to having a bit more time to be with the family, and then to pursue a freelance career again.”
Weir also admits her departure was timed so the incoming AD had a year to acclimatise, before submitting the company’s funding application for the 2020 round with their own creative vision.
“The program for next year is already in place,” she adds, “including the China collaboration. And we also have a national tour of The Dinner Party. But the hope is that we will find someone in the recruiting process, and I will hand over whenever that person is ready to start.”
I wondered if, in retrospect, she thought the job had fallen short or surpassed expectations, but Weir vowed she had loved her time with the company. “The support we’ve had has been overwhelming, especially that of the Queensland Performing Arts Centre. In terms of the creativity, it’s been an absolutely stunning time for me. One of the reasons I came to EDC was because I wanted to work with a group of dancers over a longer period of time.”
It was disappointing, but an inevitable part of life, that dancers did on occasion move on, but Weir regards working with Elise May and Richard Causer, both with the company most consistently over the period, as being “incredibly satisfying and a privilege”.
Weir acknowledges that the position has had its challenges, the biggest being funding. Nevertheless the company is now much more financially secure than when Weir took over, early on obtaining four year funding through the Australia Council. CEO Libby Lincoln, who joined the company with Weir, was responsible for securing much of that backing, and Weir admits it was a low point when Lincoln left in 2016. “She was a great support, but she decided it was time for her to move on. We’re still great mates.”
The highlights and achievements have been many: from the premiere of her first signature work Where the Heart Is, to the regular incorporation of live music for every signature work. “Where the Heart Is set the tone for what I was wanting to do, and it was well-reviewed and won awards,” explains Weir, “and discovering and working with the enormous number of talented musos and composers living in this city has also been a highlight.”
She goes on, “the small to medium sector has certainly had its difficulties in the past 10 years but I’ve loved building the initiatives and pushing for that full-time ensemble. We’re nearly there with 44-45 weeks annual employment.”
Weir feels that her tenure is ending with a sense of once again having come full circle. Becoming artistic director after her long association with the company since the 1980s, felt right at the time, she reminisces, and now in another full-circle moment, her final work resonates, very much like her first, with those themes of family that are so important to her.
Understandably this is a bittersweet time for Weir, because, as she declares, “I love this company. We’re like family. But I know it’s the right time, for me and for EDC.”
Photo: FIONA CULLEN