“Hybrid Human” Looms Large at Dance Made in Canada

BLOUIN ARTINFO CANADA, by Mark Mann, August 16, 2013

The austere dance piece Hybrid Human by Winnipeg-based company Gearshifting Performance Works followed a long and winding path before its presentation at the dance:made in canada festival (August 14-17) in Toronto this week. The work arose out of the collaboration between choreographer Jolene Bailie, media designer Hugh Conacher, and painter, Wanda Koop, who spearheaded the project in 2007 when she was invited to present a retrospective at the National Gallery of Canada. Koop immediately asked Bailie and Conacher to help her with the creation of a new series of works concerning the encroachment of technology on the human psyche for the retrospective, and over three years of bi-weekly dinners the project slowly took shape. Hybrid Human was co-presented at the National Gallery of Canada in 2011. Three years later, the piece is touring again, from Vancouver to Toronto and back to Winnipeg.

For her part in the Hybrid Human project, Koop painted fields of color on eight-foot-wide canvases , upon which she added fields of white representing computer screens. Bailie felt inspired by the concept but struggled to express it in her choreography. One day while talking it over with Bailie and Conacher, Koop added a diminutive human silhouette to the landscape, and in that instant, the Hybrid Human dance piece clicked into focus. “That’s what gelled us together”, says Bailie. With the human scale in place, the “screens” took on a quality of looming immensity and set the stage for the choreography. The Betty Oliphant Theatre, the impressive performing space attached to Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto, provided the opportunity to successfully recreate the imposing presence. Conacher’s digital projection – manipulated live during the performance – covered the back wall and dwarfed the dancers, much like Koop’s paintings themselves.

Hybrid Human presents a dystopian vision where “people become the landscape for technology” Bailie told  BLOUIN ARTINFO CANADA this week. The emotional ethos of the piece arose from the artists’ sense of unease (verging on paranoia) regarding the continually evolving digital environment. Bailie expressed her dislike for being dependent on technology, and this mixture of foreboding and exasperation provided the impetus for the work. “I feel that technology doesn’t need permission  anymore,” says Bailie. “It’s just there.”

Bailie sees digital technology as a reductive force, in terms of how it engenders both dependency and compulsive tendencies; she uses a minimalist aesthetic to express this reduction. The dancer’s sleek, laptop costumes cover their faces, rendering them indistinguishable in a primarily grey visual schematic. The movements are overtly mechanical, though unhappily so: many sequences involve repeatedly attempting gestures and poses, with the dancers failing and shaking their arms or heads in frustration. The hybrids disappoint themselves and each other; they want to be perfect machines, but their imperfect bodies continually remind them that their humanity persists. “The DNA is still there,” says Bailie.

Conacher’s projection provides a necessary corollary to the choreography. it pixelates the near-precise movements of the hybrids and reveals their failure to function together as a proper mechanical system. Ratty, childish emotions disrupt the hybrids’ technical ambitions: they bicker and bully each other, unable to coalesce. The projection captures the dancers’ movements and translates them into an amorphous, purposeless blob of pixels, and so highlights both the urgency and disappointment of their busy labors.

Driven to Dance
In Style Magazine, by Ian Mozden, Spring 2013 issue

Liquid to static…energized by life’s conundrums…heroic…

Words to desrcibe the dance of Jolene Bailie, celebrated soloist and the Artistic Director of Gearshifting Performance Works, one of Winnipeg’s most prominent modern dance companies.

And, relentless.

Having toured nationally and internationally to a tune of of 300 solo performances, completed a Masters of Fine Arts in Dance from Hollins University/The American Dance Festival, worked with numerous leading artists, including the iconic visual artist Wanda Koop (2010’s Hybrid Human), and all in addtion to teaching fleets of aspiring dancers… having accomplished all this… to say that Jolene Bailie “loves to dance” is an understatement.

She’s plain addicted to it.

“When it comes to dance, I attack,” she confirms.

One afternoon I catch up with the dance junkie at Parlour Coffee in the Exchange District. And since Parlour is only a hop, skip and jete away from Jolene’s second home – The School of Contemporary Dancers – the studio is luckily kept within a comfortable radius.

Perched on stools at big windows overlooking Main Street, rubbing elbows with fellow joe devotees, the Winnipeg-born dancer/choreographer smiles big at the artful espresso
heart lacing her café latte foam – a smile that radiates when she talks about Aspects of Alterity, a choreography for five dancers presented at The Gas Station Theatre in
November 2012.

Based on the impact of experience and how feelings often override evidence, Aspects of Alterity saw the dancers achieve a unique aesthetic and technical dynamic.
Set to the music of 20th century avant-garde luminary John Cage, fluidly choreographed group and solo dances were weighted with precise open shapes. Folk and abstract
movement ideas were in the air. And audiences proclaimed it all seamless, hypnotic, deeply contemplative … beautiful.
Yet the dance was something Jolene could not have predicted.

“Itʼs amazing how the piece you create is never the piece you thought youʼd create. I had some kooky ideas, but with the synergy of everybody and the spontaneity of life we
got to a place we never thought existed!”

But this is old-hat for the 36 year old. After over a decade of choreographing, Jolene always feels the same way when her dancers hit the stage.
“I sit there and I watch it and I am just in awe: Wow! That all happened!”

Step back.

First found taking turtle-paced pas in Community Club-style Irish, Tap, and Jazz classes, Jolene laughingly reveals a number of early her dance faux pas: “I expected to finish my
school homework rather than dance!” and “I didnʼt have a body suit!” and most shockingly, “I didnʼt know you could lift your leg to the back!”

So when she finally did catch the dance bug, and like many dancers, became obsessed, there was a fear that maybe she had missed her chance.
“I came into formal dance training quite late for a girl. Very late. I started ballet in high school, which is considered NO WAY.”

Fortunately, some inspiring role models helped her prove any nay-sayer wrong.

Who else? Mom and Dad.

Of her civil engineer/land surveyor Father and endlessly nurturing Mother-of-all-trades, Jolene reports, “One thing I got from my parents: work ethic. My Dad especially loves to
work,” she nods seriously, “I think itʼs his favourite activity.”

Like father like daughter. “I had a key to the studio. I skipped school to practice. My first year I did two ballet
exams, not just one. I danced everyday for hours. My Dad came to the studio late at night. Heʼd jog in the neighbourhood while I practiced.”

And after graduation from The School of the Contemporary Dancers (founded by the late Rachel Browne), it is this same self-motivation that continues to propel her prolific
practice. Enter the addiction: “My life has been one thousand percent dance … I just HAVE TO dance. Nothing is like dance. ”

But, in 2011, the inconceivable happened to Jolene … something else: Jolene became a mother.

Hello baby Simon!

“Itʼs not that I am less committed now. I am just finding a healthier way to approach dance. Chilling out is of value,” she proclaims, then adds (ironically), “I still donʼt get to
do that very often.”

How has motherhood changed Jolene?

“Every moment means so much now. Iʼm much more present and available for everything.”

And her dancing?

“Iʼm less precious. I over-thought things. Now I am always open to trying something different.”

Whatʼs next?

Hereʼs the list: Tinkering with emerging solo material; prepping works for The School of Contemporary Dancerʼs 40th Anniversary concerts (May 31-June 2); continuing to
mentor dancers; touring Hybrid Human; planning Gearshiftingʼs 2014 project; and yes, readying herself for baby #2 (due in February 2013).

Sounds like a tall order, but with an empty mug now before her, Joleneʼs indeed got more than enough fuel for it: “Iʼve always had a drive, a fierce inner fire.”
For more information about Jolene and Gearshifting Performance Works check out www.gearshifting.org

Gearshifting Dance Works draws inspiration from John Cage

Posted by CBC SCENE staff | Thursday November 15, 2012

For this work, emotion is key, it is also subtle. The emotional resonance comes through as the dancers engulf the space with specific drives of energy.

—Jolene Bailie, artistic director, Gearshifting Performance Works

Gearshifting Performance Works is presenting a new full-length work for five dancers choreographed by the company’s artistic director, Jolene Bailie.

Set to the music of John Cage, Aspects of Alterity, is inspired by the geography of the prairies, the aspect of lived experience and Bailie’s own relationship with the late Rachel Browne.

SCENE asked Bailie to tell us more about her latest work.

What does alterity mean?
Alterity is a philosophical concept which means otherness. The concept implies the ability to assume other viewpoints.

Can you describe the physical inspiration for this show?
Aspects of Alterity is a highly physical, energetic, demanding and exciting dance. The physical inspiration for the movement comes from my own memories of intangible experiences which have left inscribed imprints in my mind and body.

It is through the lived experience that we evolve as individuals and I feel that one’s intangible experiences, and how one feels about them, are critical to one’s identity.

What role does emotion play in its creation?
For this work, emotion is key, it is also subtle. The emotional resonance comes through as the dancers engulf the space with specific drives of energy.

The sincerity of our humanness is butted against the realities of extreme challenges to create an emotional quality that is both abstract and real with qualities of love, support, guidance, leadership, trust and power.

Does Rachel Browne still have an influence on you in your work?
Yes, especially in this work. With the recent passing of Rachel, I have reflected deeply on her impact on my life as a creator, dancer and a person in general.

Her attention to detail and unique musicality, her commitment to digging into her work, her respect of ideas and the imprint she has left on my soul have really affected the creation of this work.

What draws you to the music of John Cage?
I have always admired John Cage. And recently, when I was working on my Masters of Fine Arts, I worked on a history presentation on Merce Cunningham, who was John Cage’s life partner.

Naturally John Cage figured into the project. Out of my research for this project my interest and curiosity grew immensely. I bought a stack of CDs and continued to do some reading and research on his work.

Through my own readings and interpretations, John Cage and Rachel Browne also began to feel connected in their dedication and tenacity. I have been continuously blown away by the clear exactness of their memories of their work, memories of intangible things that were not clear in the documentation that was available, even though the documentations were the only artifacts, other than memory, of the work used in the revisiting.

This commitment to their own distinct and unique visions and their memory of how things should be and how they wanted them to be has been a key element is creating a desire and thrust for propelling the work.

What’s next on the horizon?

Next on the horizon I am preparing a 25 minute stage version of Hybrid Human, a dance piece I created in collaboration with visual artist Wanda Koop in 2010, to tour to Toronto with a cast of five dancers in August of 2013.

Aspects of Alterity runs November 16-17 at 8 p.m. at the Gas Station Arts Centre. There will be a reception following the November 16th performance.

Upcoming dance show explores everyday experiences

Canstar Community News – ONLINE EDITION, Printed in The Sou’wester, By: Matt Williams
Posted: 11/14/2012 1:00 AM

Aspects of Alterity, Jolene Bailie’s latest modern dance show, is inspired by her life experiences, prairie geography, composer John Cage, and the late Rachel Browne.

Bailie is the artistic director of Gearshifting Performance Works. She wanted to put together a piece that explored the visceral, emotional and hard-to-explain experiences people have in everyday life.

“I began to really research and reflect on how these intangible experiences we have in day-to-day life imprint within us and how our own bodily experiences have such a deep resonance,” she said.

“In a way, they’re what help us decipher in our life what’s valid to us, what’s true, what’s false — what we believe in.”

Although Bailie’s inspiration for the work involved a specific vision — prairie geography and an arctic whiteout, among other things — she stressed that it’s meant to be experienced differently by everyone.

“That’s sort of the beauty of modern dance, is that it is open,” said Bailie.

“While I have these distinct impressions that have propelled me forward, it’s not that when people come to the show, we’re asking them to think about those things. There’s a lot of freedom.”

One thing that is a constant and important part of the show is the avant-garde music of John Cage.

Jillian Groening is in her final year of training in the senior professional program at The School of Contemporary Dancers. She’s one of the performers, and said Cage’s pieces in the show, which are highly experimental, are much different than dancing to a regular beat.

Groening said the compositions are stimulating, but challenging to dance to.

“It feeds into the energy,” Groening said.

“You have to be listening and super aware and it really puts you right into the moment of the piece. You have no choice but to be right there listening to it. It’s very alive.”

Along with Cage’s music, Bailie’s emotional inspiration comes form her memories of modern dance icon Rachel Browne.

Browne was Bailie’s favourite dance teacher, and also worked with her. Her admiration of Browne is apparent in the way she talks about her “relentless drive, and consistency, and pushing and digging” in the pursuit of her vision.

“With her passing there’s been this huge ripple effect in the entire dance community,” Bailie said.

“It was very unexpected and surprising, and she was sort of like everybody’s dance mother.”
And while Bailie expects many different personal interpretations of Aspects of Alterity, she said there is a common feeling for people to take from it.

“It allows everybody involved to get out of the everydayness and really live in the moment,” Bailie said.

“It’s not a reminder, but it can be a motivator.”

Aspects of Alterity plays Nov. 16 to 17 at the Gas Station Theatre. Tickets are $20 or $15 for students and seniors at Gearshifting.org.

Aspects of Alterity dances to a different tune
, Avant-garde compositions make for highly interpretive pieces
The Projector, Mark Schram, Arts & Culture Beat Reporter | November 5th, 2012

Jolene Bailie has been involved with hundreds of dance performances over the past decade, yet the artistic director for Gearshifting Performance Works is still looking to take new risks with each show.

Her latest work, Aspects of Alterity, is a five piece contemporary performance set to the music of John Cage, the 20th century composer known for his highly avant-garde style.

“It’s a very ambitious challenge,” said Bailie. “I’m having a lot of fun with it. It’s the first time since 2008 I’ve created dance to existing music. In the past, I’ve created my dance in silence and the music was created specifically for the dance.”

Compared to her previous works, Bailie said Aspects of Alterity is more spacious and edgy – a result of writing choreography to Cage’s largely unmetered compositions.

“When you’re working with this abstract and uncountable music, it puts you in a state of heightened awareness. My goal is to use movement vocabulary that I’ve never seen before and try to create new things within the process.”

“When you’re working with this abstract and uncountable music, it puts you in a state of heightened awareness. My goal is to use movement vocabulary that I’ve never seen before and try to create new things within the process.”

She said one of the most important themes of the work is the power of intangible memory and experience — how different people can experience the same thing and yet have completely different recollections.

Jillian Groening, one of the dancers who will be performing in the shows, said that while it can be a challenge to dance to Bailie’s choreography set to Cage’s music, it allows her to explore a bit more.

“It’s tricky because you can’t count it, but it’s interesting,” said Groening. “There are certain parts that we know, but sometimes we’ll keep doing the same movement while she changes the track. It makes the music more fluid, and nothing ever gets stagnant or solid.”

For Groening, the result is that she’s able to take more liberties with her interpretation of the work and inject a bit of her own personality.

“As a dancer, it’s great being able to put a bit of myself into it. It’s more satisfying to dance in that way. She [Bailie] still guides you and has an idea of what she wants, but she allows you to explore what you can and want to do as well.”

Aspects of Alterity will perform at the Gas Station Theatre on Friday, Nov. 16 and Saturday, Nov. 17. Advance tickets are available at gearshifting.org. Prices are $20 for adults and $15 for students and seniors.

Choreographer pumps new creation full of air
Air, breath, wind and artificial air flow are among the inspirations for Inspiro.

The Winnipeg Free Press, By: Alison Mayes
Dance Preview, Inspiro
Posted: 04/18/2012 1:00 AM | Winnipeg Free Press print edition, April 18 2012, D3 

TECHNOLOGY’S impact on human and animal life has long been a concern for Winnipeg choreographer Jolene Bailie.

Three years ago, her solo Everything’s Coming Up Roses looked at our enslavement to clocks and gadgets. In 2010, her piece Sensory Life, Infinite World imagined a utopian ecosystem — a nature-inspired alternative.

In late 2010 and early last year, Bailie’s multimedia work Hybrid Human, inspired by the art exhibition Wanda Koop: on the edge of experience, was performed among Koop’s paintings at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Canada. Its characters seemed to be part-human, part-android.

Then, a year ago, Bailie performed a self-created solo while she was six months pregnant with her first child.

“It was sort of about copulating with technology,” recalls the 34-year-old, who kept dancing until two days before her son Simon was born last July, and returned to it three weeks after his birth.

Bailie’s all-new creation for five female dancers — not including herself this time — is called Inspiro. Presented by her company, Gearshifting Performance Works, it has a $10 preview performance Thursday at 8 p.m. and runs Friday through Sunday at the University of Winnipeg’s Asper Centre for Theatre and Film.

Air, breath, wind and artificial air flow are among the inspirations for the hour-long piece. Bailie has done some research into wind turbines. Though they’re touted as producers of green energy, they’re believed to be changing the flight paths of migratory birds and killing bats, among other ecological impacts.

“What happens when we modulate air currents?” Bailie says. “What is it doing to the natural environment?”

Inspiro’s simple black costumes include a subtle element that might suggest feathers or armour, she says.

Bailie says she strives to live in the moment. That probably played a part in her “totally random” meeting of her fairly recent romantic partner, ophthalmologist Gary Sewell, in a coffee shop. “He bought me a tea, and the rest is history,” she says. The two have settled down in Tuxedo with baby Simon and a “blended menagerie.”

Inspiro is Bailie’s third project with sound artist Susan Chafe. When they collaborate, Bailie first creates the choreography, to silence. Chafe attends rehearsals, videotapes them, and eventually creates a soundscape in response.

The dancers don’t hear Chafe’s contribution until three days before the show opens. It’s a very different process from choreographing to existing music.

“I can be swooned by music,” Bailie says. “It just seduces me. (Without it), I really have to go inside myself to create a work that is not dependent on specific music to work. And then the dancers have the responsibility of maintaining that inaudible music and rhythm with their bodies….

“What Susan does is add another layer. The sound becomes another dancer in the space. (The performers) have to be in the present moment.”

For eight years, Bailie was a fixture on the Canadian fringe festival circuit as a solo dancer. She gave that up in 2010, the same year she was accepted into a master’s program in fine arts at Hollins University in Virginia.

At the moment, she’s trying to recover from tendinitis in her thumbs, caused not by dancing, but by holding the baby. She’s wearing a brace and going for physiotherapy treatments.

“In a lifetime of dance, I never needed physio!” she says with a laugh.

U of W’s Asper Centre for Theatre and Film
Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 4 p.m.
Tickets $20 (students/seniors $15) at www.gearshifting.org or at the door

Winnipeg choreographer Jolene Bailie flies with “Inspiro”

Posted by Andrea Ratuski, CBC SCENE Producer | Thursday April 19, 2012

I think about the sensation of air and the properties of air and how observing wind storms, tornadoes or just the huge power of nature makes me feel. —Jolene Bailie, choreographer

“Air” is the inspiration for Inspiro, the latest creation of choreographer Jolene Bailie for Gearshifting Performance Works. But it’s more than that. It is also about breath, wind, motion, the environment and our relationship to it. It’s even about windmills and how they alter the flight paths of migratory birds.

“I think about the sensation of air and the properties of air and how observing wind storms, tornadoes or just the huge power of nature makes me feel,” explains Bailie.

Inspiro is the word for “to breathe into,” also to excite or to inspire.

This non-stop full-length work demands its five dancers to leap in the air, twirl each other around, somersault, you name it. “It’s physically demanding,” Bailie admits. “The physicality and the demands of dance are something you train for and work for your entire life.”

Bailie started Gearshifting Performance Works in 2000 after completing her dance studies at The School of Contemporary Dancers. For a decade she gave solo performances. Recently the company has grown into an ensemble of dancers.

Inspiro gets a  preview performance Thursday, April 19, followed by three more performances April 20 through 22 at The University of Winnipeg Asper Centre for Theatre and Film.

Igniting the senses: Gearshifting Performance Works’ Jolene Bailie showcases her two big ensemble works and a new solo piece in Sensoria — a special one-night-only performance
Uptown Magazine

Jolene Bailie has had one whirlwind of a year.

In February 2010, the local modern dance  choreographer/Gearshifting Performance Works artistic director  mounted Sensory Life, Infinite World, her first full-length ensemble work. In September, she unveiled Hybrid Human — a large-scale collaborative work done in conjunction with visual artist Wanda Koop’s retrospective exhibition On the Edge of Experience — at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

The Hybrid Human project has kept Bailie plenty busy well into 2011; in addition to the full-length installation work performed within Koop’s exhibition, the Hybrid Human repertoire also includes a two-hour edition for a gallery/museum setting (which was performed at the National Gallery in Ottawa in February 2011), as well as several short works and an adapted stage version for theatre.

Now Bailie is showcasing a new solo work-in-progress called Gloria’s Sensoria — alongside an excerpt of Sensory Life, Infinite World and the theatre edition Hybrid Human — at a special one-night-only performance at the Gas Station Arts Centre on April 21, dubbed Sensoria. (At the end of the month, Sensoria will travel to Ottawa for the Prairie Scene arts festival.)

Oh yeah — did we mention Bailie’s also six-months pregnant? She’s due in July.

“I’m just keeping going,” she says over the phone a day after returning from a trip with her partner to South Africa (this woman’s energy is enviable). “It seems to be going just fine. I feel great.” Bailie will be performing Gloria’s Sensoria belly and all: “I’m not hiding it — it’s here,” she says with a laugh, “but it’s not something I worked around, either.”

The Sensoria program perfectly encapsulates the ideas that Bailie, 33, has been exploring in her choreography over the past few years. All three pieces are thematically related; Sensory Life, Infinite World was about an imagined ecosystem in which creatures co-exist in harmony without the stress, expectations and pressure of modern life. Hybrid Human, meanwhile, explored technology’s impact on society, as well as on human interaction and identity.

Gloria’s Sensoria takes both those ideas a step further.

“(The piece) evolved from the idea that we can never really understand everything around you and the context of your environment — it’s so subjective.

“It’s also a response to something I’ve noticed through teaching and working with people constantly, how people get obsessed with defining themselves, especially in the way they see themselves. They want people to know who they are — but not necessarily how other people perceive them.

“Gloria is trying to define her identity in an environment she can’t possibly understand — but she has this need to define herself. And then she starts asking questions. Does it matter? Does it mean anything? It’s a combination of her trying to define herself and rationalize her existence.” (All these heady ideas aside, Bailie stresses “it is still a dance show.”)

Gloria’s Sensoria is more proof that Sensory Life, Infinite World and Hybrid Human have ignited a new creative spark in Bailie. She’s particularly grateful for the ever-evolving Hybrid Human project.

“Through the whole collaboration I’ve been able to create a body of work that feels like a collection,” she says. “And it’s been a magical collaboration. To work with a group of artists and develop all these ideas in tandem is really different.

“It’s sort of like having a baby,” she adds with a laugh. “Dances, in a weird way, are birthed.”

Creature Feature: Choreographer Jolene Bailie’s latest work fills a harmonious world with imaginary animals

Winnipeg dancer-choreographer Jolene Bailie hands the stage over to an ensemble for her latest work, Sensory Life, Infinite World.Winnipeg dance artist Jolene Bailie has gone forth and multiplied.Expanding on her best-known solo, Switchback, in which she portrayed a lizard-like creature, Bailie has choreographed a new work depicting a colony of seven imaginary organisms.

“Even though you were looking at this lone creature, you did get the feeling that there were more of them,” Bailie says about Switchback, which she has performed more than 100 times in Canada and the U.S. since 2006.

The dark-eyed, black-haired Bailie will be watching from the audience this weekend as five female and two male dancers perform the new Sensory Life, Infinite World at the University of Winnipeg’s Canwest Centre for Theatre and Film.

It’s a major career step — the first full-length ensemble work for the 32-year-old, who has made her name as a solo performer and choreographer. The show, presented by Bailie’s company, Gearshifting Performance Works, also marks her first decade as a professional artist.

The February cover story of the national magazine The Dance Current is about Bailie’s creative process for this work, with photos by her longtime lighting designer, Hugh Conacher. She and Conacher have ended their 10-year romantic relationship, but continue to collaborate.

The dancers in Sensory Life, Infinite World depict instinctual creatures who co-exist in an ecosystem of balance, harmony and mutual acceptance.

“These creatures are very abstract… but there’s an illogical logic to it,” Bailie says. “They have this innate intelligence, sort of like sonar…

“It’s this imagined, fantastical world of androgynous, unidentifiable creatures. It’s magical to be freed from the common assumption of gravity and time, which are what we (humans) revolve our life around…. To me, it is a utopia.”

The 75-minute piece is performed to a soundscape by Winnipeg’s Susan Chafe. Bailie choreographed the movement in silence, then Chafe designed the sound in response. The show also includes video, set elements and a “white foreign substance that the dancers are covered in.”

Bailie says all her works have dealt with, in one way or another, her concern that contemporary life is too pressurized, frantic and judgmental, and that we’re enslaved by technology. With the new piece, she’s exploring a nature-inspired alternative.

Many of the ideas, she says, came from observing her dog and cat, visiting the zoo and watching nature-documentary TV series such as The Trials of Life and Planet Earth.

“If I wasn’t a dancer, I’d definitely want to be involved with animals in some way,” she says. “Their understanding of each other is not infiltrated by the mass media and the technological world. I know, like, in the gorilla colony there will be the prima donna, there will be the boss… but it has developed naturally, not because somebody has $250 shoes.”

Many Canadians have followed Bailie as a solo fringe-festival performer. But after eight straight years on the fringe circuit, she decided not to apply for the summer festivals this year.

As her productions have become more elaborate, she says, it’s become clear that fringe economics don’t work for dance. Another reason she has abandoned the fringe is that she’ll be working on a higher-profile ensemble dancework this summer. Hybrid Human is described as a multimedia collaborative production between visual art, dance and music.

Initiated by distinguished Winnipeg painter Wanda Koop, it will be part of a major retrospective called Wanda Koop: on the edge of experience, slated for the Winnipeg Art Gallery from Sept. 11 to Nov. 21. The exhibition is co-organized by the WAG and the National Gallery of Canada. Hybrid Human will be performed right in the gallery space. Bailie hopes it will go to Ottawa with the exhibition.

Koop invited Bailie, Chafe and Conacher to collaborate with her on the project, which deals with humans’ increasing reliance on new technologies.

It turns out that Koop, a member of the Order of Canada who is in her late 50s, is a big fan of Bailie’s work. “She’s been coming to my shows since 2003 or 2004,” says the choreographer. “She has a similar aversion to technology that I do.”

No clocks in this jungle
Choreographer Jolene Bailie builds a creative utopia with Sensory Life, Infinite World
Jen Zoratti, The Winnipeg Free Press

Jolene Bailie is curled up in a chair, intently watching her seven dancers rehearse scenes from Sensory Life, Infinite World, the first full-length ensemble work from the acclaimed local choreographer and artistic director of Gearshifting Performance Works.

“It’s like watching fish in an aquarium,” she whispers.

The comparison is dead on. Although there’s a controlled athleticism in the dancers’ movements (those familiar with Bailie’s solo work will have no trouble seeing her in the piece), there’s also lightness, fluidity and calm.

Within that juxtaposition lies the whole inspiration for the show, which clocks in at around 80 minutes. Sensory Life, Infinite World is a glimpse into an imagined ecosystem in which creatures co-exist in perfect harmony without the stress, expectations and pressures of modern life – and with the complete freedom to give in to their primal urges.

“The spirit of the piece is my own little vision of utopia,” explains Bailie, 32. “There’s not this pressure of time. These days, everything moves so fast – we’re all trying to be superheroes and cram everything in, yet we don’t see each other or reward ourselves for all our hard work.

“I also really love animals,” she adds with a laugh. “I wish humans could view each other like animals and accept each other for who they are, not for what they know or what they do or who they will become.”

To create her utopia, Bailie worked with a whole host of talented collaborators, including lighting and set designer Hugh Conacher, costume designer Anne Armit (the brains behind the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s wardrobe) and sound artist Susan Chafe, who rose to the task of creating an original, textural soundscape for the piece – after it was choreographed.

“The whole piece was created without music,” Bailie says. “I’m so easily swooned. I didn’t want to get influenced by music.”

Bailie also made sure the studio was a stress-free refuge for dancers Freya Olafson, Claire Marshall, Tiffany Thomas, Mark Sawh Medrano, Emma Rose, Sarah Helmer and Tyrell Witherspoon.

“I’m anti-stress and making stress for other people,” she says. “That’s been a huge part of the creative process. I think I’ve always felt a tremendous amount of pressure myself, performing. But I think you can create art and work hard without being destructive to the human spirit. I think people are losing their spirit because they’re working so hard – and that saddens me so much. It makes people feel bitter and it makes them feel unjust. And it is unfair. Everybody I know is doing their best – but the expectations are too much.

“In rehearsal, as soon I saw stress I tried to clear it right away. I didn’t want a part to be associated with frustration, and I didn’t want people to start feeling like what they were doing wasn’t good enough.”

That supportive, positive environment yielded many rewards.

“It’s been a gift,” Bailie says. “I’m really grateful for everybody. Everybody’s been so unusually cooperative and harmonious. It’s something I’ve never experienced in the studio in my life.”

With that in mind, it’s hard to believe that Sensory Life, Infinite World comes from a solitary place. It grew out of Switchback, a signature solo Bailie has performed over 100 times. Still, as strange as it was at first for her not to perform her own work (another first for Bailie), she’s incredibly proud of what her dancers have done with it.

“I knew I couldn’t be in the show, period, because I wouldn’t have been able to do my job,” she says. “I’d love to be up there, but this would not be what it is if I was in it.

“This project is bigger than me.”

TAKING a show on the Canadian fringe circuit is no piece of cake. It’s not even a cheap cup o’ joe.

It’s a gruelling feat of low-budget travel, unpredictable lodgings, financial risk, loneliness and punishingly hard work, says acclaimed Winnipeg modern dancer Jolene Bailie, whose one-woman company is called Cuppa Jo. Fringe veteran Bailie, 29, is doing her fifth festival tour, this year starting here and hitting Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria and Vancouver before wrapping up Sept. 16.

“The lifestyle can be really uncomfortable,” she says. “It’s the ultimate test of dedication. I have done many fringes alone and it is really, really, really, really hard.”

The Fort Garry-bred graduate of the School of Contemporary Dancers looks as delicate as your average ballerina. But she is a shrewd and gutsy self-marketer who has forged an unusual career path. Rather than joining a company or attempting to get roles as a freelancer, she commissions choreographers to create solo works for her (and creates some herself).

This year’s piece, Private i, is the work of Calgary’s Denise Clarke. It opens with video footage of Bailie that is projected on two life-sized black cutouts of her, creating the illusion of multiple Jolenes. Bailie spent on two small video projectors to create the hologram-like effect. And of course, she has to invest the up-front entrance fee, usually , for each fringe. “Many artists lose a lot of money touring the circuit — thousands and thousands,” she says. “It’s a big risk, and artists generally are broke.

“I know someone who went off to teach English in Korea to pay off his fringe debt.”

The fringes’ varying showtimes, designed so that no one monopolizes the good timeslots, can play havoc with one’s body, says Bailie. “It’s comparable to doing shift work. You can have a late-night show, followed by a noon show the next day.”

And the festivals’ timing — this year Calgary ends on Aug. 18 and Edmonton starts Aug. 19 — can create pressure and stress. “At times you need to practically jump offstage and get to the airport to get to your technical rehearsal in the next city.”

It’s financially unwise, Bailie has learned, to tour anything but a bare-bones set. “It could cost you over $1,000 to ship a big fake rock around the country, which I did in 2003.” Over the years, she has been billeted in homes ranging from an oceanside condo to a camper in a back lane.

“One of the most shocking things for me, being the frugal dancer, was how much it actually cost to stay alive on tour,” she says. At home in Winnipeg, the only time she ever splurged on a taxi was when she had a broken foot. On tour, she often has to use cabs to get all her “show stuff” to the venue.

“I have grown up a lot,” she says. “I sure do know the value of a dollar and how far it can actually be stretched.”

This year, Bailie is “excited and grateful” that for the first time, her partner and lighting designer, Hugh Conacher, is able to go on tour with her.

Overall, she says, the positives far outweigh the negatives. She has learned, out of necessity, to be her own company manager, publicist and producer. Most importantly, she says, “the fringe circuit has allowed me the opportunity for quantum leaps of growth as an artist.”

Altering the Abstract

Jolene Bailie changes her MO for a more straight-forward dance show
Reality sometimes bites, but Jolene Bailie is happy to be dancing in it again

For the 29-year-old dancer, whose past works have often been imaginary, fantastic and especially angst-driven, it was important to get back into the real world, which she’ll be doing with private i. Bailie’s latest solo show was created by Calgary’s Denise Clarke and is a theatrical dance investigation of the self.

“I really had a hard time having fun (in the past),” Bailie says. “I know that sounds bizarre, but this show is about a person living a great life, and she loves her life, even though there are ups and downs. So what? It’s life.

“To be that character and take that home opposed to my previous monstrous shows, that invade every part of your life, it’s very refreshing to me.”

To craft the reality-based piece, Clarke ran Bailie through an intensely personal interview process. The purpose, however, was never to put the dancer’s life on display.

“She took that line of questioning and what she learned about me and used that as the basis for the writing, but it’s done in a way where it wouldn’t necessarily have to be about me,” Bailie says. “It creates this world, this character and an environment that worked. The odd line is directly what I said, but mainly she just used it as inspiration, as a foundation to create the character.”

Story aside, the actual dancing also has a firm grip in reality. She may be trained, but Bailie can get her groove on like anybody else.

“Often in modern works I have worked on in the past, the goal is to do something very abstract, something maybe not seen before, something completely different,” she explains. “This show plays off the dance clichés, so I do dance steps, which often I don’t do in my shows. It’s very much like I’m dancing. It’s clear what I’m doing is dancing around to the music.”

That music is the instrumental indie pop of Toronto’s The Hylozoists, so it’s evident that Bailie is really putting the contemporary in contemporary dance, with private i promising to be very of the moment, a real look at a modern-day female.

“I’ve never had such current, real and human elements in my show,” Bailie says. “Usually the show is often abstract, maybe a little bizarre, but this show, well even though there might be some bizarre elements in it, is about a real person. It’s very relatable to everyday life.”

You really don’t want to miss Bailie stepping out a bit – so be sure to be on time

Dancer Takes an i-Opening Voyage into Theatrical Work

Local dancer Jolene Bailie likes to dip her nimble toes in new water

In her latest show, private i, the Winnipeg performer explores the landscape of dance theatre for the first time. The hour-long solo show weaves together dance and storey-telling as it follows a female character’s emotional roller-coaster ride on a journey of self-discovery.


“This is new territory for me,” says the energetic and always enthusiastic modern dancer, who runs her own one-woman company, Cuppa Jo, and has performed over 180 shows since graduating from The School of Contemporary Dancers in 2000.

“I wanted to challenge myself to do something I may not be comfortable with. I wanted to do something completely different…to break some new ground, for me.”

She admits that speaking on stage is very different terrain from dancing.

“I was so petrified that I lost my voice during my first working rehearsal,” says Bailie, who has established herself on the modern-dance scene as an expressive performer, with a chameleon-like ability to create many different characters on stage.

“I have worked really hard on the text to ensure it comes across naturally, like a conversation.”

Private i also marks Bailie’s first full-length solo show. She typically mounts mixed-repertoire shows featuring several shorter works from various established choreographers, although she has also created her own short pieces as well.

In the case of this project, Bailie commissioned choreographer Denise Clarke of Calgary’s acclaimed One Yellow Rabbit performance theatre company to create a dance especially for her.

“Denise Clarke’s work intrigued me; she is very experimental and avant-garde,” explains Bailie.

The resulting choreography is more animate and theatrical in style than her previous performances, she adds. It’s also unique for her in dance that the dance is set to rock music by Toronto indie band the Hylozoists.

“The choreography is very athletic with big, expansive range of movements,” she says. “The dances come from a very emotional place and the choreography is there to relay that emotion.”

Bailie also points out that this is one of her most accessible and fun performances to date.

“The character is very human and tangible and vulnerable and someone we can all relate to,” says Bailie.

“At the beginning she is really cool and projects confidence. She is a bit of a diva. Then she slowly removes her shell and shares herself with the audience. She is questioning herself, her life, the world, and that encourages the audience to question themselves, too.”

“But it is done with humour, and in a very entertaining way, not in an overly sentimental, chick-flick way. It is a very spirited piece.”

May 04, 2007
The Winnipeg Free Press
Cheryl Binning

One of the most feted new dancers on the fringe scene
-Eye Magazine, July 07, 2005

finely honed interpretation
-The Vancouver Sun, July 06, 2005

This year’s top pick is Chasing Bliss.
-Now Magazine, Hot Summer Guide 2005

Winnipeg’s Jolene Bailie is considered by some to be the great new Canadian solo
artist, and heir (gulp!) to Montreal’s legendary Margie Gillis. Working within various
idioms of modern dance, the charismatic siren performs works by…
Marie-Josee Chartier, Joe Laughlin and Julia Sasso.
Her Toronto debut is long overdue.
– Paula Citron
Toronto Life Magazine
June 2004