Words: Karen Hare / Photos: Janine Kropla
She rolls up the sleeve of her velveteen leopard print top. Her feet are no longer recognizable as they are now in heeled leather. We sit and chat. Her eyes are full and she speaks openly, full of excitement. Jill has been dancing since the age of 11, ‘a late start for most dancers’ she explains, and it wasn’t until high school that she made a more serious transition away from sport to dance, entering the Intensive Training Program at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Following high school she entered the Senior Professional Program at the School of Contemporary Dancers in affiliation with the University of Winnipeg. She has worked alongside as well as apprenticed under such artists as Jolene Bailie, the founder and Artistic Director of Gearshifting Performance Works. This particular dance company has been a continual vessel for Jill’s work and she has performed in such works as Aspects of Alterity, Hearing the Time, Hybrid Human (alongside Wanda Koop’s On The Edge of experience) and most recently performing as an apprentice in Set and Reset in this year’s Nuit Blanche at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Graduating in may 2013, she is now showcasing her first piece choreographed and performed solely by her; a collaborative piece called whitewash, working alongside Michael Mogatas, a painter and recent graduate himself.
She stands in her kitchen and her wrist begins to tap… tick. She feels the heaviness of time. The weighting/ waiting. The feeling of hurry up and hold fast dear future I am here now. But it is the present, she is in the moment, and the future must wait.
Back to task...
She pictures the gallery; she hears it. The hardwood floor creaks, her feet sound heavy, then light, the surface is uneven. She sees the shadow being cast. White walls. Her wrist… tick, tick tick… what does her wrist sound like in the space, her hair, her breath? Her hand clasps the wrist. What would she wear? How does she wear it? She exhales, ha… ah, ah, ah, ah, her hands move from her chest and outwards stretching her elbows, over and over, ah… ha, ha, ha. She feels the air in the room on her arms, hears the volume of the space in her breath. The piece begins to form, she knows how she enters, how she exits. Now, she sits in the gallery, the lights are cast on the back wall. She watches herself dance, over and over until it is perfect. She knows what she is wearing, how her shoes meet the floor. Over and over, it follows her home repeating in her head. She knows who she is, who she will become when she performs, she knows her. She knows the voice of her body.
She enters, leading with her hand. Face against the wall I hear tap, tap, tap. There is a hollowness in the wall and the room. Then her hand catches me, it quivers. Everything is being cast above her in black, mirroring her movements but larger, stretched and soft around the edges. She wears pale colors and her shoes are slightly worn. Then clack, her left hand clasps her right wrist. I see her face now… tick, tick, tick, her wrist. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I feel the weight/ wait. I hear the floor. I hear her breath. I can see the extension in her fingers reaching, pulling from her hair. Ha… ah, ah, ah, ah, her hands move from her chest and outwards stretching her elbows, over and over, ah… ha, ha, ha, I hear her hair on her back at each repetition; the volume of the space in her breath. White walls, her wrist, over and over in my head, she follows me home, I know her too.
Muddy Water: What does it feel like when you perform? Are you able to be immersed in the moment, or do you find yourself thinking while performing, tracing steps, hearing the audience etc.?
Jill: Lately I have been finding that the most fulfilling performances are ones where I have no choice but to be hyper aware of my surroundings. Whether it be the audience being right up a little too close, or having to be wary of dodging posts (which happens when dancing in old warehouse spaces), or concentrating on trying to keep a loose bandage on my toe...those end up being the times where I find I have the right combination of acute sensitivity and logical, almost relaxed, approach. When you can be in the moment fully enough to really be able to experience it ALL. That's when it really feels like you're performing from the deepest part that you can.
MW: What made you choose your own body as your art medium?
J: It doesn't really feel like I've chosen my body as my medium...although I suppose I have. I’ve always been a very physical person with lots of energy and I played sports (soccer, volleyball, lacrosse, running, swimming, water polo, you name it) all through childhood. In junior high while playing club volleyball and dancing very casually it got to the point where I had to decide one or the other and dance was what I chose to stick with...and here I am! Now, I can't imagine not dancing, I would go crazy.
MW: You’ve described to me the body wanting to move one way and having to make choices to force your body to follow new steps. This would be like an artist learning a new style of representation each time he or she creates; something unfathomable to many artists, can you tell me why it is important to push your body out of its comfort zone?
J: This answer I have thanks to Connie Cooke, a choreographer I worked with last year who’s from Winnipeg and now has her own studio in Victoria, BC. While in the creative process in the studio with her she was constantly saying "acknowledge what natural paths your body wants to take and then do the exact opposite". She was always pushing you to go to the very edge of a movement, to make it uncomfortable. This isn't always a great idea (pulled hamstrings galore) but it's great advice for creating and building on oneself: to not just do what feels good, but what is necessary to say what you want to say and to make movement interesting and obscure.
MW: This is your first piece solely choreographed by yourself. How have you found it better, worse, easier more difficult? How does it affect the performance when the piece is so personally charged?
J: Composition was a part of the Senior Professional Program (taught by Odette Heyn), wherein I had the opportunity to play around and create on others. I choreographed two works, both for small groups, while in the program, but "whitewash" was the first solo I have ever created as well as the first ever piece on myself. The movement itself was harder to create on my own body...even though I could envision what I wanted things to look like; it was my own body that was holding me back. My own body was the most limiting part of the creation, which I expect will be a constant struggle. When it came to actually performing, however, I found that with presenting my own work, where behind every motion I have a myriad of images flashing through my brain, I was able to really access the raw places that the motion was coming from and it was through performing it that the piece started to make sense to me. I also find it way less nerve-wracking to perform my own work rather than watch my work be performed by others.
MW: Shadow played a large part in this performance. Can you explain why it was so important to add this element?
J: The heavy shadow lighting was something that I’ve wanted to do ever since taking a Lighting Design course taught by Hugh Conacher. I have always really liked the look of overexposed lighting, and I also love a good shadow and all that can be contained within it. It's also a pretty cool experience to be able to catch a glimpse of your shadow moving on the same plane alongside you...very peter pan, haha. The shadow was able to serve as my mirror, my antagonist and my partner.
MW: You have collaborated with a painter for this exhibition. Obviously collaboration was something that interested you, why was that? What was the original connection that drew you to work with another artist with a different medium?
J: Rowan Gray, the curator for CSPACE gallery had wanted to put on a show with Michael Mogatas' paintings and my performance work. Mogatas and I found common ground in the fact that both of us are fresh out of school and trying to figure it out...feeling pressure to pursue what we feel we must but not exactly sure how. After seeing each other’s work we realized we had been very much in the same world creatively.
MW: What’s to come? How do you hope to continue in the coming years?
J: For a definite "up next" I will be performing as an apprentice with Gearshifting Performance Works in a new piece premiering in May 2014. After that, I hope to continue dancing with Jolene Bailie and Gearshifting, which is fantastic and exciting, and I hope to be able to create more of my own work as well. I would very much like to continue doing that.