Jen Dunford: “My body is the work and I am the art.”
Jen Dunford recently moved to McCauley and is the Volunteer Coordinator for the Heart of the City Festival. Dunford is a multi-disciplinary artist who has formally studied piano and dance. She has worked in several different disciplines including theatre devising, acting, and singing.
Dunford says, “I’m an improviser by trade. I think that my happiest place is working between the mediums of live dance and live music. Art is a language. I’ve studied a lot in nonverbal communication which is my favourite way of saying dance. I work as a performer. My body is the work and I am the art.”
Dunford has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance, a degree which she received in 2015. “I grew up taking community dance and I did Royal Conservatory examinations in piano at the same time, so I was concurrently becoming a musician and a dancer until I reached grade 6 in piano at which time it became more theory heavy and I had to make a decision between whether I was going to become a dancer or a musician,” Dunford says. “I decided to choose dance because oftentimes in a classical ballet class there is a live pianist and so in that way I could continue to experience both at the same time.”
As an independent dance artist, Jen works with musicians and singers performing together live. Her choreographies always include either live musicians or originally composed scores. “It is really important to me that the dancers and musicians have a connection. That interplay is what makes performance meaningful.”
When describing why she is drawn to dance, Dunford says, “I think it’s the ability to self-express and to have the agency to create. I feel empowered when expressing. I feel in control and I feel just a little bit taller, more confident. What always brings me to tears in dance is when I feel that I am a part of something more – I’m part of a conversation. It’s that communication between artists that makes me feel I’m a valued member of what is happening.”
“I recently came back to working as an educator for the Art Gallery of Alberta. It has been a joy and a highlight to utilize my skills in the fine arts and to recognize the cross over between all genres of art and how important visual literacy is. I’m really proud that the Art Gallery of Alberta, the house of art for our province, exists downtown.
About living in the inner city, Dunford says, “I think I prefer the downtown, even though I’ve had as many negative experiences as I’ve had positive experiences. It’s been a goal of mine to move out of the suburbs and create my own adult life in the inner city. I’ve always felt a part of the under-represented voiceless youth. I’ve spent a lot of time in the underbelly screaming into the void and never hearing an echo back.”
Dunford adds, “Maybe if I can create space for others, even in my own small capacity, I can help to reciprocate that echo.”
Corine Demas is the President of the Heart of the City Festival and the Special Events Coordinator for the McCauley Community League.