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Interview With Jolene Bailie/Gearshifting Performance Works

Interview with Jolene Bailie/Gearshifting Performance Works

Tell us about yourself, location and company.

Originally founded to support Artistic Director, Jolene Bailie’s solo dance career, Gearshifting Performance Works has grown slowly and cumulatively since 2000 to become a notable voice within the national dance community. Presenting shows annually since 2001 and touring extensively, Jolene Bailie and Gearshifting Performance Works are based in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Jolene Bailie received her formative training from Barbara Daurie and is a graduate of The School of Contemporary Dancers. Jolene holds a B.A. Honours degree in Dance from The University of Winnipeg, a Teacher’s Certificate with Distinction from The Royal Academy of Dance and a Masters of Fine Arts in Dance from The American Dance Festival/Hollins University. Committed to ongoing training, Jolene has also trained at institutions, schools and with Master Teachers all over North America.

Jolene’s dance career has predominantly been self-initiated and self-produced. The first ten years of her career were primarily focused on solo work. During this time she performed almost 300 full length solo concerts and worked with Stephanie Ballard, Marc Boivin, Rachel Browne, Marie-Josée Chartier, Denise Clarke, Deborah Dunn, Don Halquist, Joe Laughlin, Brent Lott, Jim May (re-staging of two solos from Rooms by Anna Sokolow), Gaile Petursson-Hiley, Julia Sasso and Nina Watt (re-staging of the suite of five solos from Dances for Isadora, by Jose Limon). In 2002 she began developing her own choreography and in 2005 she began touring her choreography. Since her last performance in Toronto in 2009, her concentration has been focused on choreography. Since 2009 she has created site specific and installation works as well as seven full length works: Everything’s Coming Up Roses and Inanimate Jungles Have Clocks, Sensory Life, Infinite World, Landscape Synergy, Inspiro, Aspects of Alterity and Hybrid Human.

As a dancer, Jolene has also worked with: Ruth Cansfield Dance, Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers, Trip Dance Company, and on numerous cherished occasions with Bill Evans and The Bill Evans Dance Company (2000-present). Jolene has been a key faculty member at The School of Contemporary Dancers since 1997.


What is your dance background?  What drew you to it?

I began taking dance at the age of four at the local community club on Thursday nights. From the early age of six I had to choose dance over another activity, I had to choose dance over Brownies. Brownies was very popular with my friends. It seemed all the girls in class signed up for Brownies. On Thursdays all my friends wore their Brownie uniform to school. I desperately wanted the outfit and wanted to earn badges.

My Mom only had one strong rule in our house and that was if we signed up for something we had to finish and we were not allowed to quit or miss. If we decided not to sign up again that was fine but we had to finish. This lesson has stayed with me to this day.

After five years of dancing for forty-five minutes a week, with one half of the class devoted to tap and the other half devoted to jazz, I added an hour of Irish dance. In adding Irish dance to the mix I also added a whole new level of politics and competition. For a good portion of our classes we were left alone to work on one step. As soon as the teacher left us to practice we would unpack our homework until the teacher returned.  We worked on our two minute dance routine all year. We did nothing else. No exercises, no warm-ups, nothing across the floor, only the recital dance. The recital was in a school gym. We worked on the two minute dance for 10 months. We had very expensive and extravagant costumes. The mothers were expected to sew the costumes. The teacher was never nice to us but we loyally returned for years. Teachers had “favorites”.

Although this is not what I would consider ideal training, the experience and ritual of rehearsing a dance repeatedly had a lasting impression.

I began assisting classes at the age of eleven. I loved assisting. I began earning money assisting right away. I earned three dollars an hour. I was never paid on time.

I could go on and on, my early training was less than ideal. Regardless, I learned really great lessons about the dance world in really odd ways and these lessons stayed with me. I got more serious about dance over time, I became a fixture at the studio, and dance was how I defined myself. I started training with Barbara Daurie in high school, I skipped school to practice and I danced as much as possible. For a long time dance was my only interest. That was a long time ago.

What drew me to dance? Well, nothing I did compared to it, so for a long time I did nothing else.


Describe your approach to movement and your creative process. What is your favourite part of your approach?

For me, choreography can happen anywhere: in my kitchen, in transit or in those few minutes before drifting off to sleep. It more actively begins the moment I step into the studio to warm-up. Whether I am choreographing for myself or for an ensemble of dancers, most often I teach or participate in a rigorous and technical warm-up class. While the warm-up material I create/and or participate in is very polar from the style of movement I choreograph, the experience of being in motion, facing challenges head on, moving in full range and being fully present are critical elements that lead into creating. For me, being physical is one of the ways I feel most fully present and alive.

When creating movement, I usually enter the studio with a series of ideas and visions I have in my imagination. I’ll also have a state of mind and energy I want to resonate through movement. I then try to create something in motion that describes what I am seeing in my mind. I usually think of an idea and then try to dance out what I think I see in my head. Then, once the idea is out in the studio, it transforms into reality either through my own body or through the dancers. Each journey, whether it makes it to the stage or is scraped in the process, is valuable as it leads into a new journey and all the shared experiences inform the final version that gets to the stage.


Favorite parts?

I have so many favorite parts. I really do love it all and I am really grateful for all my dance experiences.

That being said, one of my favorite parts is when the dance really starts to propel itself. One never really creates the dance they think they are going to create. I love the feeling of things overflowing, like a flood. The overwhelming feeling – like you just can’t keep up – usually means things are cooking.

Since 2009, Susan Chafe has created original sound for most of my works. Another favorite part is when we get our sound from Sue and I imagine her sitting in her house playing all those instruments and hearing out loud what she sees in the dance in her mind. Just thinking of her and imagining her creating is pretty wondrous.

I think my absolute favorite part is sitting in the audience and thinking “how did we get here?”, “how is this really happening?” Usually this is the last show of a run or after a few performances, once the nerves have calmed a bit.


Is there a Canadian artist/organization who has really had an impact on your artistic development and career?

There are so many artists and mentors who have had impact on my career and development. Living and working in Winnipeg has had a tremendous impact, choosing to stay in Winnipeg has also had a tremendous impact.

Geography is an important element in my daily life. The spaciousness and openness of the vast prairie landscape has shaped both my perspective and expectations. Having space around me, having room to breathe, having physical space available to organize my belongings (and trying not to accumulate too many belongings) and space to organize my thoughts are all things I cherish. Seeing the space around me is important. The daily practice of noticing subtle changes in a somewhat monotonous landscape, having the ability to see for miles and seeing the horizon regularly are things I do daily.  The effort and energy required to live with dramatic weather has also had an influence on me and my work.

Two people in Canada who have had great impact on my artistic development are Rachel Browne and Hugh Conacher. Rachel Browne’s tenacity, support, interest and love really helped me to see a more whole picture of dance and me in Winnipeg. Here are a couple random examples of Rachel’s impact: She called me once after one of my solo shows and offered to come in and help me rehearse my bow. For a numerous years I was very uncomfortable bowing at the end of my shows, as ridiculous as that seems I was just plain awful when it came to bowing. I got so nervous, I froze, I basically killed the applause (or so I was told). Rachel wasn’t involved in the majority of my shows, but that is how much she loved us all, she was very supportive. She would always call me after she came to a show and give me her generous gifts of perception, her honest gifts of perception: the good, the bad and the not so good. I remember her sharing a story about something that had left “a bad taste in her mouth”, and even though that story had nothing directly to do with anything I was doing at the time, it was in a way a natural and wise passing on of a story for me to recall and use when the time came. The time did come and with her guidance, I feel I did the right thing. For awhile we lived in the same condo building, every time I ran into her she would offer up some wisdom. She was the elder in our dance community.

Collaborating with Hugh Conacher has also been a critical part of my development. I have worked with Hugh on every single performance of my career. Hugh’s support, encouragement, understanding and belief in me and my work gave me great strength for the first ten years of my career. While these days I work pretty independent of Hugh, in the first chapter of my dance life, his presence, friendship, energy and attention helped me to gain the confidence I required to meet my goals and assisted me to pursue my artistic vision with a greater sense of self-worth.


In 30 words or less, define yourself as an artist.

I wanted to involve some of the participating Winnipeg Artists in this blog. This seemed like an opportunity to hear from their perspective as well as my own. I asked them to describe me in one word via email, suggested that it should only take a few seconds, not to think too much about it and I promised they would remain anonymous. In alphabetical order, this is what they said: clever, committed, creative, dedicated, deliberate, deliberate, driven, driven, focused, inspirational, motivational, obviously very creative, resilient, respectful, thorough, thoughtful, visual, visual and with a few more words: that the process is always approached with great respect for the vision, the art form and the people involved.


What was it that attracted you to being involved with d:mic/fac?

First and foremost, the opportunity to create, develop and perform my work.

But there are also a plethora of other reasons that magically connect like a spirograph.

My greatest mentor and dear friend, Bill Evans, has said many times, on many occasions in many technique classes, three phrases. These three phrases, as spoken by many, but passed down to me through Bill, have guided me through my entire adult life: “life is movement, movement is change”, “if you are not growing, you are shrinking” and “there are many possibilities”.

I first participated in d:mic in 2009 when I performed my self-created solo, Switchback. Aside from July 2012, when I presented my thesis concert at The American Dance Festival, the 2009 d:mic festival was the last time I performed my own solo work outside of Winnipeg.

Since this 2009 festival so much growth and so much change has occurred in my life. Since 2009 I have dedicated a lot of my focus to creating ensemble work. While I still perform solo work and really do miss performing myself, so much other stuff has happened and I accept that one can never do everything one wants to. So much has happened in all aspects of my life. So much. So very much. This much: I have tumbled out of love, got a cat, fallen into love, moved three times, got engaged, completed my MFA, created seven full length works, traveled to South Africa, spent three summers at The American Dance Festival and had two children. There is probably more, that is the first time I compiled a list like that.

To come back to the festival with my work, this time bringing an ensemble of dancers, an ensemble of dancers from Winnipeg, means a lot to me. You never know where life will take you, who will be there, how you’ll feel and what will happen. Coming back to d:mic after so much change is actually very profound for me. It is events like this and the interweave of shared circles and the opportunities to connect with artists outside of one’s own immediate geography that creates ripples that change all the changes and voila, somewhere down the road we arrive at a place that was never on the radar. It is the whole event of attending a festival or a workshop, which in this case I am doing both (also looking forward to taking class with Peggy Baker…), that changes one forever. The immersion, the commitment to dance, the energy, the witnessing, the participation, the memories, the experiences – all this then is with us, it becomes us, it is part of our history and with this history we evolve into our future histories. It’s jumping in with two feet, that’s what it’s all about.


What advice do you have for aspiring dance artists and choreographers?

Choosing between the available options is not the same thing as thinking for yourself. When you think for yourself you create your own options, options that do not exist without your own creation.

Dance as much as you can, dance in places you have never been to, dance with strangers, train with teachers you do not know, travel to attend workshops, festivals and performances. Remember, everything has a cost and nothing is ever free. Have a place to come home to. Save that 10% the DTRC urges us to. Get out of your comfort zone. Develop your own opinion. Make decisions. Get in over your head. Trust your gut. Leap and a net will appear. If it doesn’t, keep leaping, one day it will be there. Do all the dancing you absolutely need to do before you have kids. Be brave. Take responsibility for your mistakes. It is going to be very rough, try to have some fun along the way.

Briefly tell us about your newest projects. What can we expect from your performance at d:mic/fac 2013?

My work in d:mic/fac 2013 is Hybrid Human. Hybrid Human is based on sketches by Visual Artist, Wanda Koop created in the early 1990s. Contemporary living is dominated by watching a screen, be it a computer, cell phone, movie, or television. All these screens filter information and are how we make sense of experiencing our day-to-day world. For Wanda Koop a painting is another type of screen that holds the potential to morph into a mirror; as we look into Koop’s paintings we catch ourselves looking back at our own reflection. My choreography takes the silhouette character viewing the screen within the Hybrid Human paintings off the canvas and into the space, blurring the reality of what is on and off the screen. Hybrid Human explores the constructed notion of robots and ideas around the disembodied experience, consciousness, creativity, surveillance, artificial intelligence, and artificial life. The evolution of the dance was inspired by years of conversations between Wanda Koop and me. The ideas and themes explored in the work deal with topics from these conversations and shared experiences over food and within both Wanda’s studio and the dance studio.

Hybrid Human is a collaborative project that was spearheaded by Wanda Koop. The work also features Lighting and Media Design by Hugh Conacher and Original Sound by Susan Chafe. Created in conjunction with the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s exhibition, “Wanda Koop… on the edge of experience”, the work has been performed at Nuit Blanche, The Gallery Ball, The Winnipeg Art Gallery, The National Gallery of Canada, The Gas Station Arts Centre, Prairie Scene (presented by The National Arts Centre) and The Dancing on the Edge Festival.

There are five dancers in work. The cast includes Branwyn Bundon, Jillian Goening, Krista Nicholson, Christie Peters and Tiffany Thomas with costumes by Anne Armit

The future? I’m always plugging away at something. Often I tinker with ideas for a long time before I do anything with them. I do a lot of tinkering. I am premiering a new work for five dancers in May, 2014 in Winnipeg. I am also tinkering with some ideas for a solo. I am pretty sure I have one more solo show in me…. maybe in two or three years, I am in no rush.


Gearshifting Performance Works presents Hybrid Human at this year’s d: mic/fac festival as part of the Morrison Series. This piece explores the constructed notion of robots and ideas relating to the disembodied experience, consciousness, creativity, alien intelligence and artificial life.

Show dates/times:
Wednesday, August 14 at 9:00 pm
Friday, August 16 at 7:00pm
Saturday, August 17 at 2:00pm

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