Q&A With Jessica Miller, Founder of Swallowsfeet Dance Festival
Pictured: Jessica (left) with Rosa Firbank (right)
Brighton-born Jessica Miller makes up one-sixth of the creative collective behind Swallowsfeet, a truly diverse alliance of dancers, choreographers, and artists. Having discovered the magic of contemporary dance during her studies at Sussex Downs College in Lewes, Jessica has showcased her dance ethos at Swallowsfeet Fesitval for five years.
The two-day festival, run at The Old Market in Hove, explores today’s most current issues, focusing on issues of identity, disability, gender and culture. Following on from our rundown of the event, we caught up with Jessica to find out more.
What’s your Brighton story?
I was born and raised here. I like the sea and the variety of people, particularly the energy that is here throughout the year, how people get excited about little and big ideas. There is an openness and a willingness to try new ideas in Brighton, and it’s fun. Plus it’s glorious when the sun shines!
What’s your dance story?
I started dancing when I was 11, mostly ballet, modern, tap and jazz. I started as a gymnast, aged eight, and gymnastics was my real passion until I was 15 when dance took over.
I was first introduced to contemporary dance at GCSE level and I wasn’t convinced. Once I went to college I discovered a new world of contemporary dance. What I really liked about it is how creative it allows you to be, there isn’t a right and a wrong, there’s so much potential within just one genre. I went on to train professionally at Trinity Laban in London and I felt very inspired learning from the people around me – my peers and fellow artists. At Laban, I learnt just how versatile dance can be.
What’s it like working with such a diverse group of performers, choreographers and artists?
It’s inspiring, it certainly never gets stale, never the same. I am constantly introduced to new ways of thinking, new ways of doing. You are continually surprised, and constantly learning. Working with a diverse group means you are exposed to so many new skills and opportunities to develop. It’s wonderful – and very special – for me to be able to work in such an environment.
Your company has been described as ‘young and energetic’. What kind of people do you have getting involved? What’s the dynamic like?
Everyone involved is very passionate about what they do, which creates a good energy – we love what we do, and we want to share it. We want to allow other people to feel and share our excitement. We are young and energetic but the dynamic can be turbulent. It’s certainly not always plain sailing – you never know if things are going to turn out how you want them to. Ultimately, we’re all passionate about the same things. There are always risks but we know this brings us to a far more interesting place in the end.
Why did you choose to include performances like Ajima, A Blighted Life, and No.Company? They all tackle some big and important themes.
These three works are a good representation of the sort of work that’s now being made all over the world. Out of the 280 applications we received, the nine pieces we have chosen feel the most current, and address themes such as disability, identity, sexuality and arts funding cuts.
The choreographers we selected address these issues in unique ways, making their work poignant and powerful. The collective all felt very strongly about bringing these artists to Brighton. We want their work to help us get people talking about contemporary dance and about important issues.
How many people are you expecting to attend Swallowsfeet, and what will the atmosphere be like?
We hope to attract around 350 people throughout the weekend. Friday night is more concentrated – there’s more focus on just a few choreographers and everyone experiences the same performances together. There is a real buzz on Friday night, with a lot of people in the same space at the same time.
Saturday has a real festival vibe. Everyone is excited for the chance to see a lot of different performances, but it’s a relaxed atmosphere. The audience can take their time, come and go as they please, sit, stand and move around the venue. We do finish off with a party, though!
Why was The Old Market selected as the venue?
Two years ago,we approached The Old Market with our concept and ideas. It was just a one-day event then, and they were absolutely brilliant. The venue took everything on board and let us host performances throughout the building. They love that we take over the theatre, and get creative with the space. They have been really encouraging, very understanding and patient with our crazy ideas. The whole team is so lovely and talented and we love working with them.
What’s next for Swallowsfeet?
In many ways… who knows?! At some points we didn’t think this year’s event was going to be possible – there is very little funding available and this, unfortunately, does impact on our activities. We would love to continue to do a festival every year and also take our programme to other cities in the UK and beyond.
Next on our calendar is Brighton Fringe. The Swallowsfeet Collective will be presenting a collection of our own choreographic works at the Sallis Benney theatre on Saturday 22 May. Expect a similar flow and format to our festival, but this is where the collective really come into the spotlight.
What advice would you give to people who want to get into dancing?
Just do it! There’s so much out there to experience. There are so many people and great teachers able to share their knowledge and experiences. I think if you want to do anything, don’t just think about it – go out and do it.Otherwise, you’ll never know.
Swallowsfeet Festival will return to Hove this weekend (24 and 25 March).
To book tickets and find out more about the event, click here. Tickets cost £10 for the 7 pm Friday performance and £15 for the 4 pm Saturday performance, with weekend tickets available for £20.
Keep updated on social media by using #SWF17 and following @swall0wstweet on Twitter.
The Swallowsfeet brochure is now available at local businesses across the city.