Magdalene Wynne-Jones trained in the professional ballet stream at the School of Dance in Ottawa, Canada. After completing the 7 year program, she moved to Vancouver where she continued her formal dance training at Arts Umbrella in the Graduate Intensive Program. During this time she danced with the Arts Umbrella dance company and collaborated with the Ballet B.C. Mentor Program. Upon graduation she apprenticed with independent dancer and choreographer Margie Gillis in Montreal, Canada. Maddy then transferred her emerging career to London, where she is now working as a freelance performer, choreographer and teacher with contemporary companies, ballet schools, independent artists and in dance film.
Magdalene founded Tempered Body Dance Company in 2007, working throughout the UK as a freelance choreographer creating work in a variety of disciplines including contemporary, classical and neo-classical ballet, commercial, jazz, and physical theatre.
In her artistic pursuits her primary focus is to make work that encompasses many art forms, providing the opportunity to collaborate with artists from all backgrounds and areas of expertise. Maddy’s aim as an artist is to challenge the partnerships that arise in this process, using dance in its most technical capacity, and using the body as the connective tissue between artistic mediums. In her commercial endeavors, the work is primarily guided by dynamic, musicality and originality as defined by the aesthetic goals of each undertaking, achieved by a dedication and commitment to the desired outcome.
Maddy, you are currently in rehearsals for Trilogy in collaboration with Cloud Dance Company. You will be showing two of your most recent works for Tempered Body Dance Company Tag Along and Landing at the Cockpit Theatre on 13 and 14 December. Alongside, you are Resident Choreographer with Cloud Dance Company. Working in and facilitating collaboration is a major influence and aspect of your work as Artistic Director, Choreographer and Dancer.
Do give us some insights into the creative processes and artistic ideas of Tempered Body Dance Company and in your recent collaborative projects working with writers and composers.
My artistic focus with the company is to create work that brings together artists from a range of fields, whilst pushing physical boundaries in movement. I am honoured to have a method of expression through dance; I was trained and have developed my career within this world, however, I don’t want my work, or the work of the company, to be limited by one vocabulary. As artists we have so much to learn from each other, and I think there is a real magic that comes from bringing art forms together.
The creative process, when I embark on a truly collaborative project, begins with collecting inspiring and inspired people. I have been very lucky to cross paths with such people and invite their work onto the 'Tempered Body' creative canvass. I present an idea an image in my brain, or a story I want to tell, or a niggling feeling waiting to get out and they and I breath life into it, throwing around ideas as it begins to take shape.
We each go back to our respective workspaces and I begin to generate movement, investigating what we have discussed. Over the course of the creation time the collaborators and I continue to check in with each other, offering samples of what we’ve been playing with. Sometimes it will become clear that we’ve gone off in separate directions, at which point I try to reestablish the concept and find key moments or themes for us to focus on. These will act as landmarks and guide us through. Usually what goes on stage is very different from that initial idea, which is why the journey is so important.
In my current project I am thrilled and honoured to be working for a second time with Canadian composer Jack Hurd and British writer N. Quentin Woolf, having created Not Me Now together in 2007. It is exciting to feel our creative relationship growing as we continue to challenge each other in our respective disciplines.
You have been working primarily in London since moving from Canada. One of your major foundations is ballet alongside contemporary dance; you have created work in classical ballet, neo-classical and contemporary dance with children and professionals. Alongside your involvement in education in general, you also run an apprentice scheme for young dance artists with Tempered Body Dance Company.
What interests you most working with aspiring dancers and what are your main focus points and objectives when stepping into the role of a mentor?
I was very fortunate to have some incredible mentors throughout my training. During my two years at the Arts Umbrella Graduate Programme in Vancouver, Canada I worked alongside some of the most prominent figures in the North American dance scene. In taking company class with Ballet B.C., through the Arts Umbrella Dance Company; and later with Margie Gillis, I was able to witness how dance happened in the real world, and experience how different artists make it happen.
Training, especially in ballet, can be a very insular experience, with so much focus on technique and what goes on in class. I believe it is vital to the development of aspiring dancers to get a window into the world to which they may soon belong. It puts things in context I suppose. It gives a purpose for that ever important technique and class that is more immediate then seeing dance as an audience member in the theatre. When I was given the opportunity to work with Margie Gillis immediately following my training, I had already built a strong foundation in my body through the rigorous programme I’d been in, and the apprenticeship allowed me the time to make the connections in my body and brain to take that to the next level and learn about the creation of art through dance, and how to translate that to performance.
The apprenticeship scheme with TBDC is in very early stages. As it develops, I hope to inspire young, dedicated dancers, challenging their ideas about dance as well as their bodies, whilst giving them the opportunity and space to develop into professionals.
Your ongoing work with professional dancers has seen you becoming Resident Choreographer of Cloud Dance Company. Please give us some more insight into Cloud Dance Company and your responsibilities as a choreographer in residence.
Cloud Dance Company is a London-based part-time contemporary dance company that enables dancers at varying stages in their careers to continue dancing, performing, and developing their dance skills independently of their non-dance careers and other commitments. They have offered student placements to 13 second- and final-year dance students, and have performed throughout London as well as in the Cloud Dance Festival - an ongoing festival supporting emerging and established companies throughout the UK by providing consistent platforms.
I was offered the role of Resident Choreographer for this season as the company went through some major restructuring. A shift in the focus of the company meant that Cloud Dance and the Director Chantal Guevara reduced the number of dancers by nearly two-thirds and put more emphasis on seeking choreographers who would create challenging and inspired work. My job is to help this transformation by developing a piece for the “new” company that can help pave the way for this fresh mission.
The work with Cloud Dance has allowed me to challenge my creative process, and I have purposefully taken a very different approach to the way I would develop a piece with my own company. The dancers also bring a whole new set of influences and ideas. The piece that I am creating on them will be performed at the show in December, to culminate this season with the company and they will continue performing it in their repertoire throughout the spring and summer seasons. I will return to the Resident Choreographer position for another season in autumn 2009.
Alongside your teaching and choreographic endeavors, you continue your commitments as a dancer. You regularly perform with Chameleon Collective. You are at a point in your career where your work as choreographer is growing and developing significantly; are you ever temped to step in and perform your own works? Do you have any thoughts on the relationship of being choreographer and/ or dancer, and the transformation that occurs as your choreographic career grows?
My focus at this point in my career is choreographing and creating work. I love performing and am deeply influenced by the opportunities I have had and continue to have, dancing in other peoples work. At this point, I prefer to keep the two roles separate. When I create movement I don’t want to be influenced by the temptation of vanity as a performer: Will this look good on my body? Will I be able to pull this off in performance? and so on. It may be that this approach, not asking these questions of myself when I work, sets up a bigger challenge for my dancers, but they are strong and dedicated and more often than not, I am blown away by their abilities.
I think it is incredibly important to be able to see the piece as a whole through every stage of its development. I have worked, as a dancer, with choreographers who dance in their own pieces alongside the other members of the company. The constant stepping in and out of the choreographer/dancer role is unsettling in rehearsals, and perhaps more so on stage. It not only breaks continuity, but I think it is unfair to the dancers, who should, I believe, have an outside eye constantly assessing the progress of the work. That being said there are so many gifted and inspired choreographers who dance in their own work, and carry it out beautifully. I think it’s a personal decision based on many variables. For me, when I create, that is that hat I am wearing. More and more, as my career transforms, that hat seems to fit better and better, so that I’m tempted not to bother taking it off.
When I visited you in rehearsal, I was struck by your discipline. Working with a composer and writer alongside creating movement vocabulary and rehearsing your dancers requires great organisation and good communication skills from your part.
Your clear understanding for the other art forms and individual collaborators was shining through and you knew exactly how they should relate to each other, where the counts and words should coincide with the movement and staging. Do you set a majority of the movement material yourself? How do you prepare for rehearsals?
I suppose the projects I undertake do require great discipline. I have learnt, though, that great discipline is easy when there is great desire. I so much desire the work and the people I work with, I so much desire this rich tapestry of each artists contribution, I just do what the process and the vision for the outcome require of me. It’s important to remember to stay true to the idea I am nurturing in any given project, to what Twyla Tharp refers to as 'the spine of the project', and this leads the decisions I have to make with all of the various elements.
terms of movement, I set the vast majority of the material myself.
Sometimes loosely. I prepare a vocabulary, a phrase, sometimes a whole
section of a piece and bring this in to the studio. That’s when the
magic happens: when the dancers step into the movement and make it their
own. Then I and we can see and feel what works and what doesn’t and we
get on with the task of structuring.
Some rehearsals I don’t prepare movement ahead of time. I might prepare tasks for the dancers to generate movement from, or I might prepare one movement, one lift for example, and let gravity and our breath in that moment guide the choreography.
Working with other art forms can dictate where the origin of the material is too. Some sections of this new piece with TBDC were created based around set movement, with the writer and composer working from that template. Other sections where developed around a sample melody from the composer, or devised from the rhythm or mood of words in the text. And some sections just evolve and you can’t tell or remember their point of origin or where one artists work ends and another begins. I strive in my collaborative efforts to achieve a point where no element, whether it is the music or the words or the lighting or the costumes, is merely accompanying the dance. They should all be pieces of a puzzle, together making the whole of the piece.
And finally, what are you hopes and ambitions for the coming months Maddy?
Once the new piece with Tempered Body, entitled Landing, is premiered in December, it will be performed again as part of Resolution! on January 17 2009. From that point, we will be working to get the piece into festivals and platforms throughout 2009. I will also be spending time developing our education programmes, including the apprenticeship scheme, returning to the studio in April for a new creation.
I hope to continue to develop my abilities as a choreographer over the next few months; to challenge myself and my work further by surrounding myself with the people who inspire me, and by taking risks inside the studio. The company is building momentum now, so I will be aiming to get the work ‘out there’ as much as possible, whilst forging new collaborative relationships. I have learnt that there is a balance to find between taking giant leaps of faith and throwing oneself into scary places, and taking careful, purposeful, measured steps towards a glowing goal. Over the coming months I hope to learn how to embrace that balance.
Many, many thanks for your time Maddy.
For further information, please go to the UK Choreographers Directory, or contact Alice at Dance UK on firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7713 0730.