Sensory Life, Infinite World
Interview by Megan Andrews
Photos by Hugh Conacher
Since graduating from The School of Contemporary Dancers and The University of Winnipeg in 2000, Jolene Bailie, artistic director of Gearshifting Performance Works, has self-presented and produced over 250 solo shows, six cross-Canada tours and numerous smaller tours; re-mounted fourteen works by senior choreographers; commissioned eight new works; collaborated on several dance-based video projects; and created one evening-length solo work, eight works for pre-professional students and over 125 dances for schools. Bailie has performed with Trip Dance Company, Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers and Ruth Cansfield Dance. Her new full-evening work for an ensemble of dancers marks her ten-year anniversary of professional work. She lives in Winnipeg where she shares a small condo with a beloved dog and a wonderful cat.
You launched your career fresh out of school by commissioning solo works from established choreographers. Many new grads would find this a challenge. How did you proceed and what gave you the confidence to go for it?
The path may appear confident, but in fact it was an interweaving of two factors. Upon graduation, I desperately wanted to dance, a lot. I would have loved to dance full-time with one of the companies in Winnipeg but I was not what any of the directors were looking for at the time and it did not look like any positions at the emerging dancer level were going to appear. Ever since I was a teenager, I have also always had a very strong need to experience dance outside of my somewhat isolated geography and a hunger to experience new things as well as a continued desire to train with a broad range of teachers.
Mark Sawh Medrano, Madie the dog, Jolene Bailie and Sarah Helmer in rehearsal for Sensory Life, Infinite World by Bailie / Photo by Hugh Conacher
Who were some of the choreographers you worked with and what did you learn from these commission projects that informed your subsequent artistic path and development?
I have worked with many wonderful choreographers and directors, with some of the relationships growing to exist independently, outside of the commission. When relationships grow to be more than straightforward business, this has a profound effect on me. I love to have the opportunity to bond with artists I work with, and having an understanding of who someone is personally definitely enhances my interpretation of their work. This relationship does not always grow, but when it does, it is magical. The most influential artist in my life by far has been Bill Evans. I first trained with him in 1996 and, since then, I have trained with him every single year, as well as assisted at his summer intensives and performed with his company in Port Townsend, WA and Rochester, NY. I have had the honour to learn from him through an incredible wealth of experiences over a span of fourteen years. Simply being around Bill Evans makes life, and one’s understanding and appreciation of dance, dancers, people and the world in general richer and more fluid. He is a great teacher, an amazing mentor, now a wonderful friend and I love him dearly.
Andrew Milne, Emma Rose, Ruth Levin, Freya Olafson and Mark Sawh Medrano in rehearsal for Sensory Life, Infinite World by Bailie / Photo by Hugh Conacher
Early on, you toured the Canadian fringe festival circuit regularly. How did you manage/produce these touring shows and what advice might you give to someone interested in doing the same?
Touring the fringe with a dance show is insane. I have no idea how I survived it. One year, I did ten cities and almost sixty shows in eight-and-a-half weeks. For several tours, my ex-partner, long-term artistic collaborator and new best friend, Hugh Conacher, toured with me. I am very thankful for Hugh’s ongoing support. I also did many tours alone: setting lights, sound, making cue sheets, postering, doing publicity, packing up, unpacking, shipping, sweeping the stage, sleeping on the floor, running out of money – you name it, I did everything, plus all the shows. While some fringe festivals are great for dance, some are simply not equipped to support a dance show in the formal setting that I need. That being said, I loved touring and performing very much. I met so many wonderful artists, saw amazing performances I would never have had a chance to see in Winnipeg, and I was able to broaden my artistic experience through visiting galleries, museums and other cultural attractions. As for advising others, try out one city first. It’s very expensive and really rough emotionally and physically; and, first and foremost remember, the fringe was not created with dance in mind.
Mark Sawh Medrano and Emma Rose in rehearsal for Sensory Life, Infinite World by Bailie / Photo by Hugh Conacher
You note that you like to include elements of science fiction, fantasy and technology in your work. What attracts you to these particular fields and how are they related to your art-making in the context of today’s culture and concerns?
My reaction to these elements is out of horror. It is both amazing and disturbing how easy it is to communicate through inanimate objects and go about living life in a buffered fantasy world.
Sarah Helmer, Ruth Levin and Freya Olafson in rehearsal for Sensory Life, Infinite World by Bailie / Photo by Hugh Conacher
As you’ve developed your performance and choreography, you’ve also built a teaching practice. What values underlie your approach to teaching; what do you hope to impart to your students?
I was actually teaching tap, jazz and ballet for a few years before I began training in modern dance. I always knew I was going to teach dance. I never really thought I’d get to dance professionally, even though I wanted to so very badly. I did not start ballet until high school but immediately my skill for teaching was recognized and nurtured. I’ve always been a bit burdened by the reality that I am a far better teacher than I am a dancer. Teaching comes very naturally and I love to bond with students and help facilitate positive change. To me it is most important that dance enhances one’s life and that at the end of the day it is a positive experience, not a negative experience.
Andrew Milne, Emma Rose, Ruth Levin, Sarah Helmer, Freya Olafson and Mark Sawh Medrano in rehearsal for Sensory Life, Infinite World by Bailie / Photo by Hugh Conacher
What kinds of arts and cultural experiences do you partake in outside of your own work?
I try to watch as much as I can. My approach is simple: expose myself to as much as possible and do not get caught up in understanding any of it. I simply take it in and I am committed to this as much as I am to dance. I subscribe to everything I can: Manitoba Theatre Centre Mainstage and The Warehouse, as well as Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. I have a flex pass for the symphony and I always see The Winnipeg Jewish Theatre’s season as well as Theatre Projects Manitoba, as well as loads of other shows not affiliated with a season pass – and I am a member of The Winnipeg Art Gallery. I see a live performance at least once a week for most of the year and have made it part of my lifestyle. I strongly feel that if I am active in the arts community, I need to experience and smell and feel what is going on in the community I act in. I also surf the net and YouTube to see what is going on outside of the Winnipeg bubble. I am overwhelmed at the richness of creativity we have in the world.
Mark Sawh Medrano, Jolene Bailie and Sarah Helmer in rehearsal for Sensory Life, Infinite World by Bailie / Photo by Hugh Conacher
Gearshifting Performance Works (Jolene Bailie) presents a new work from February 19th through 21st at the Canwest Centre for Theatre and Film, Winnipeg.
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