We chat to Jennifer Fletcher of The Mostly Everything People ahead of their newest run with The Very Important Child at Vault festival in Feb 2018.
Jennifer, tell us where you’re from, what kind of dancing you do and when you first decided you wanted to dance professionally.
I grew up in Cornwall and London, and although I’d been dancing from a very young age I really fell in love with it when I was about 12. By the time I was 16 I was dancing 6 days a week all over Cornwall, but I was always more interested in making work rather than performing in it. When I was 18 I went to Laban which was an amazing place for budding choreographers.
How did you go about learning your craft?
I had some great teachers in Cornwall (shout out to Helen Tiplady and Jason Thomas!), and moving to London to study at Laban challenged me in all the right ways. Aside from ballet, we studied a variety of contemporary techniques and were also nurtured in our own creativity, and encouraged to make our own work. London was a great place to study with so much theatre around all the time, I tried to see as much as possible and still do.
What was your first job? How was it?
I honestly can’t remember what my first job was (can’t have been that memorable!), probably a music video for little or no money! I remember doing a lot of work for free and taking any opportunity that came my way. Some good, some not so good but they all helped shape the work I make now in some sense.
How did you then go on to get further work?
I can certainly say one particular job led to most of the work I’ve had since, a production of Rhinegold by Liveartshow at The Yard Theatre. It was one of my first Movement Director roles and I loved every minute of it, met some great people, many of whom I still work with now on lots of different productions, and had the best time. Most of the jobs I’ve had since I could link back to that show in some capacity.
Tell us about NOVA and The Mostly Everything People
I co-founded dance/physical theatre company The Mostly Everything People with Christopher Preece in 2012. We met in 2006 while I was at Laban as the institution was merging with Trinity College of Music where Chris was studying Jazz. We started making little bits of performance together and experimenting with combing movement, text and live music. The company has just completed a tour and Edinburgh run of ‘The Very Important Child’ and we’re just about to begin making our second film.
The Very Important Child will be coming to Vault Festival in London in February 2018 which we’re very excited about. It’s a silly, informative and thought-provoking show about ego development. The performers take the audience through a scale of 1 to 9 levels that we’re supposed to progress through during our lifetime, although most adults never exceed level 6. So if you’re interested in finding out how developed your ego is - come and see us in February!
NOVA was born out of collaboration with writer/performer Lowri Jenkins when she asked me to direct a text she’d written in 2013. This went on to become ‘Invisible City’ which has toured internationally and encouraged us to become a more permanent collaboration. We work mainly in Wales, Lisbon and Barcelona at the moment, and have just started working on our new show ‘2133’. It’s about aliens who visit earth to try and work out why humans are so bad at basic equality, especially gender. We were heavily inspired by The Everyday Sexism Project by Laura Bates.
What have been your most interesting and challenging productions? Any interesting stories? Travelled much for work?
Lately I have been travelling for work constantly and seem to be paying rent for a place in London that I never actually see, but I do love working in new places. I never know where I’ll be next and there’s never a dull moment! I’ve just been working with NOVA in Portugal and will be going back there again in a few weeks time.
I’m about to start working on a Christmas show in Chester (Secret Seven at Storyhouse) which looks like it might provide some interesting challenges including multiple trap doors, a cast of 14 plus community chorus of 7, puppets and a live dog! Working with a double cast can also be interesting, an Opera I did earlier this year was double cast and because we were short of time we had one cast marking the show at the back of the space simultaneously, so it was like watching two shows at once or seeing double!
I also spent a few years performing at music festivals all over the country with ‘Oh My God! Its The Church’ and we never knew what to expect from the crowd. Once we had Keith Allen on to confess his sins, he had quite a lot to say…..
We had such a good time and it’s definitely the most fun I’ve had on stage.
Are there any dancing myths that people believe starting out that you can reveal aren’t true?
People think that dancers are really healthy but in my experience they drink and smoke just as much as everyone else! However dancers can often be the most hard working of all performers in my experience, they are also generally very open and easy to work with.
How much practice is too much and how much is not enough – for physical endurance?
I think for most people, once you finish your training, it’s very hard to fit in (and afford) training but obviously it’s important to keep a good level of fitness and mobility at all times. I’m always been more of choreographer than a dancer so I’m not nearly as fit as some of the people I work with!
Some people pick up some terrible injuries. How do you take care of yourself and avoid this?
I think Pilates is the best for protecting yourself from injury, great for alignment and strength, I’m really bad at going but I tell everyone else to! There were lots of injuries when we were training due to the heavy and intense demand on our bodies, and long hours. I was lucky and managed to get through with 1 very minor injury but there were dislocated knees, broken bones and lots of shin splints.
What advice can you give to somebody wanting to be a professional dancer? And can you relay a piece of advice you were given on your road to working as one that’s stuck with you?
I remember our ballet teacher telling us during our second year of training that we were at our physical peak and we’d never be any fitter/stronger than we were at that point, we were mortified. Turns out she was right, but I believe you become a better and more interesting dancer as you get older just through experience. I actually prefer watching older dancers, they have a level of sophistication and beauty that can’t be taught through training.
Advice……be open and throw yourself in at the deep end sometimes. It’s good to get used to also using your voice and other mediums of performance. Dancers are often expected to also be actors and occasionally singers, due to theatre becoming more multidisciplinary. So being versatile is always a good thing. I have had to use my voice a lot and bring out old skills I never thought I’d need for jobs, like tap! Most of all try to enjoy your work and not compare yourselves to others too much, it’s a waste of energy.
Tell us what you’ve got coming up and what you’re up to at the moment.
I’m currently working with the Deaf & Hearing Ensemble who are about to go on tour with ‘People of the Eye’ and next up I’ll start work on Secret Seven in Chester alongside making a film with The Mostly Everything People. And look out for The Very Important Child at Vault festival in February!!!
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