Holly Rollins

She has toured extensively with Cirque de Soleil as an aerial hoop performer. She has recently completed her Masters in Education at Harvard. She came to Melbourne to visit NICA for a day, but since then has choreographed several NICA productions. This autumn, a cast of 18 third year Bachelor of Circus Arts students perform Veritas. In the midst of the performance, Anna Lozynski spoke with devisor and director Holly Rollins about the work and her passion for teaching others to feel at home in the air.

Holly RollinsVeritas explores some challenging and abstract concepts such as one’s longing to be loved, dreams and fears. Which of the concepts did the NICA students find particularly difficult to convey?
The concepts of one's longing to be loved, dreams and fears are challenging for any artist to tap into because they are very personal. I wanted to work with such concepts for the sake of lessening the sense of isolation around that which is not easily articulated. Jungian psychologists have a vocabulary for such things. In my view, a physical and non-verbal form such as circus can also be a vocabulary for the expression of such abstract and personal ideas. These concepts, while abstract, are universal, and deeply rooted. NICA students were willing to take the risk to convey these. The performers’ instincts matched the characters’ expression.

What can audiences expect to take away from the work?
I hope the audience will experience an elegant simplicity and aesthetically beautiful imagery as a metaphor for aspects of the human condition, as well take away a sense of hope and compassion.

What was the inspiration for the video projection featured in the piece?
Initially, the video projection was in lieu of a set. I think we found that it gave us more flexibility in illustrating what I refer to as the "internal landscape" of the characters on stage. The projections were inspired by the moods or feelings that we were dealing with in each act. Visual designer Nicholas Verso and I would discuss what we wanted to achieve. He would then source or create several images and we would choose what we felt worked best for the show.

You have worked extensively in the US in the contemporary dance and aerial space. How would you compare the two countries in terms of their receptiveness to circus as an art form?
In my experience, contemporary circus is more prominent and progressive in Australia than in the US. While there is a budding interest in circus as an art form, it is considered in its traditional form. Training spaces seems to be far less accessible in the US. I get excited when I come to Melbourne because of the amount of circus present. People seem to create opportunity for it here.

How did you come to specialise as an aerialist?
I was a gymnast and a figure skater, so I was used to swinging on bars and also spinning fast on ice. In College, I was into contemporary dance and learned that I liked to be on stage and perform. Then I began to learn flying trapeze and felt quite at home in the air. I thought that the best possible job for me would be to combine the two; that is to be a performer in the air. I saw someone do tissu (aerial silks) and was immediately attracted. When I auditioned with Cirque du Soleil, they hired me for the aerial hoop. It was not my expertise, but my figure skating background helped with the fast spinning.

What made you move on from Cirque de Soleil?
I performed in Quidam and then in La Nouba. They were fabulous years. Being on tour, in particularly, is an all-consuming job. I reached a point where I was satisfied with what I had done with the company at the time, and I was curious to explore other options. That ultimately led me to Australia.

Tell us about how you became involved with NICA.
A few years before I visited NICA, I had heard about this circus training institution in the southern hemisphere that was affiliated with a University. It sounded very interesting, but at the time, I was contracted with Cirque so I made a mental note of it. When I eventually did leave Cirque, I travelled to New Zealand. I intended to stop in Melbourne only for a day to see NICA. I ended up staying as an aerial trainer, performance teacher, and circus choreographer.

For you, what is the most satisfying part of working with students?
Working with students is an opportunity to help them grow. It is a huge responsibility to be in a position of such potential influence. It is also a huge gift. I have had many teachers who influenced me far more by who they were than what they taught.

Which one lesson from your early career has stayed with you?
I think circus, and the arts in general, have the potential to be very ego-driven. One lesson that has stayed with me is to ask the question about why you are doing it, and what are you contributing. Don't do circus to feed your ego; do circus for the love of circus, and to inspire others in some way.

Circus performance has become increasingly popular, some would say largely due to the Cirque de Soleil phenomenon. In your view, what is the next likely direction for the art form?
Circus as an art form will continue to be explored in relationship to other art forms: circus on ice, circus and tap-dancing, circus in a multimedia context, circus on a sailboat. Who knows?

Veritas is now playing at the NICA National Circus Centre, Prahran. Further information»

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