Published On: 4 July 2023|By |Categories: Stories|3.9 min read|

XYZ’s midweight creative Luisa Filby on contemporary dance, experience design and the democratisation of the arts

With a background in strategy, creative and design forged at Brand Union, LAYER and Signal Noise, Luisa Filby joined XYZ’s creative team almost two years ago. In her role as the creative experience agency’s Midweight Creative, she’s worked on projects which included creating a heroes’ send-off for the Lionesses to the Euros 2022 with Nike, a celebration event to announce Erling Haaland as the new face of the Phantom football boot and bringing to life a sustainable concept store for Coach.

LBB > Who would you say is your creative hero? 

Akram Khan, the international choreographer. I have seen so much of his work and I admire his total focus and drive. As a kid, he used to skive school so he could practise kathak for hours in his parents’ garage without them knowing. The hours of training that it takes to become a dancer, not to mention physical exertion and pain, is awe-inspiring to me. It is a real craft, and I’m always fascinated by true craftsmen. I aspire to their patience, commitment and belief.

Additionally, without being a dancer myself, I can relate to his impulse to move. I experience a lot of my most creative moments when out for a run.

LBB > Why is the person such an inspiration to you?

There’s a lot of parallels with what we do in his work. Dance is such a pure and creative form of expression and what I find so affecting about his work is that it feels so visceral in terms of a communication art form. He combines movement and language, both of which are primal, so an experience of going to see his work is relatable to almost everyone.

I love languages (I did a languages degree before getting into the creative industries) – both for the connections they enable you to make, and the way words are an endless creative toolkit. Khan takes language to a level further and in his work, it is liberated into rhythm, percussion… the heartbeat of the performance. He uses poetry, speeches and historical fragments, all of which is so interesting yet accessible – his works are very democratic in the way that they speak to people.

LBB > How long has this person been important to you and when did you first come across their work?

My first memory of encountering his work was at the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, which was an amazing introduction to events and the power of experience design to carry people on a shared emotional journey. Amidst the joy and celebration of the occasion, Khan was tasked with creating a piece themed on ‘Mortality’ in remembrance of those who died in the 7/7 bombings… I remember he managed to silence a whole stadium and hold them in a shared moment of reflection which was so powerful.

LBB > How does this person influence you in your approach to your creative work? 

One of the ways I take inspiration from him is as a storyteller. He was brought up on epic stories from religion and myth like the Mahabharata and his work broaches complex themes from theoretical physics to war and immigration. Yet he manages to make complex stories simple and universal. I think what I’m most drawn to about dance as a method of communication is its purity of expression. We all have an almost physical response to seeing dancers move and in this way – despite continuing social and financial barriers to dance as an artform – it feels quite democratic, as we all react to it on the same level.

He is a north star for experience design for me for the way he creates total worlds. Everything feeds into the creation of an electric atmosphere, from the set design to the music and lighting. Working with trusted collaborators such as Anish Kapoor and Nitin Sawhney he manages to take audiences on a totally immersive journey every time.

LBB > There’s continued discussion around hybrid experiences – does his work translate beyond the stage?

I don’t think dance translates to the screen. It can’t be captured well somehow, all the emotions and energy feel flattened. This interests me in today’s world – that there are maybe still some things that can only be experienced IRL. We are so often now designing experiences with that secondary experience front of mind – how it will come across on a phone screen. It’s good to be reminded of the power of unmediated, unfiltered live events sometimes.