This Season’s Young Promoter, Bella Hubbard, has been talking to Artistic Director and Dancer, Jen Wren who is touring shows and workshops with Highlights this week. Find out about their show 6 Feet 3 Shoes in Cumbria, County Durham and Northumberland HERE
Bella: Why did you want to start performing?
Jen: I grew up in a rural area, with traditional arts and creative people around me. At that age, I didn’t recognise that when people told a story or played music, that they were performing. It just seemed to be something that people did. All I knew at that point was that I loved to sing and dance and when I did, I felt happy. I would get bored very easily watching TV or playing computer – so instead I would do something creative such as write a song or make a dance to some music. I think then, naturally, I wanted someone to see what I had made.
At some point along the way, I had stopped dancing and it wasn’t until I was 20, I realised how much I missed it. So I left my full time job and went to train professionally. It was only then I realised I was a natural performer and that I actually wanted to perform. Performance allows me to express myself in ways that I can’t otherwise – with words, for example. I am dyslexic and ADHD, so practical tasks and activities come more naturally to me and also help me expel extra energy I have in my system. Dancing gives my mind and body a focus. I am now a choreographer so I am able to use my vivid imagination and experiences to create work that I can share with others.
B: Where would your dream place to perform be and why?
J: It’s a good question. When I first started training in contemporary dance, I thought the biggest feeling of success would be to perform in some of the most prestigious theatres and venues in the UK and abroad. What I have found out along my career is that my dream place to perform is in fact in village halls, with rural communities and in spaces where you can be close to the people. Right now, I am living my dream as we are touring to village halls, which is really exciting for me.
B: Who was your inspiration whilst growing up?
J: My mum was and still is a big inspiration. She made me believe I could do anything I wanted to and has supported me in all my life decisions. I am very lucky to have had this support. To have someone believe in you, but also advise you in times of uncertainty, is one of the biggest gifts you can have in life. I’m now 45 and my mum still supports me in this way.
B: Why did you chose to combine the different forms of dancing?
J: I had spent time with two Spanish girls during my training at Northern School of Contemporary Dance and naturally we started sharing things we knew from our own cultures and traditional arts, together. It inspired me to start exploring how these forms could be intertwined to represent who we were as artists on stage. It was a big jump from contemporary dance, but it has been very interesting and has allowed me to create a new vocabulary for us and for others to see.
B: Have you always danced from when you were younger?
J: I was involved in ceilidhs from as long as I can remember, my mum would always take me and my brother/sisters along as children. I did some Highland dancing and a bit of ballet for a couple of years when I was 5 years old and in primary school we did school concerts with music and dance every year for our parents to come and watch. I also started roller skating at the age of 5. I dropped the other classes to concentrate on this as an artistic competitor and continued this art form as a competitor for the Scottish team, winning 1st, 2nd and 3rd place prizes and medals.
B: When you say you deal with trans-disciplinary and cultural dance, what do you mean?
J: Trans-disciplinary means that you are able to combine different trainings (such as singing and dancing, or storytelling and dancing) together. Some artists might be able to do all this, but not all at the same time, or in the same choreography. My practice means I can sing whilst I dance, tell a story whilst I move and I can move between them as a performer, rather than only focus on one of them. When I talk about cultural dance within that, I mean that the dance styles have arrived from different countries and cultures – for example, flamenco is not in the Scottish culture, but I have learned all about it and how to dance it – to some extent. This allows me to mix what I know about my own cultural dances, such as the sword dance and throw in bits of flamenco within that – which changes how it all looks. I can dance each style differently but I can also mix them together.
B: How long have you been performing for?
J: I guess you can say I have been performing since the age of 5 as a hobby, since the age of 24 as a student and since the age of 28 as a professional. I am 45 now. Its interesting because how you perform changes as you become more knowledgeable and experienced. Just as you grow into your life, you grow into your performance styles.
B: Who has been your most interesting/favourite person to work with on a performance?
J: This is a very tough question to answer. I’ve worked with so many amazing artists, each one has taught me something different, either in the sense of learning more about art and art forms, or a life lesson. I enjoy it when I am creatively challenged by another artist when I can learn something new or how I can do something better.
B: Has your heritage and folk background influenced what you do now?
J: Absolutely. I did move away from that during my training and initial career in contemporary dance, but I returned to it in 2015 and have consciously included it in everything I do since. I am exceptionally proud of my roots and feel much more like myself when I allow that part of me to shine through.