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Meet Jessie Jeanne Stinnett of Boston Dance Theater in Medford

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jessie Jeanne Stinnett.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my artistic journey! My passion for dancing began with a deep connection to music. For most of my life, my father was a professor at Berklee College of Music and also taught students out of a studio he and my mother built in my childhood home. As a youngster, I found myself pulled to move to my father’s melodies and rhythms, and those of his students. My body reacted instinctively. I was completely consumed by the energy of the sound and needed a way to express the sensations I felt through my body. Sitting passively in stillness wasn’t an option. For me, dance and sound are inextricably linked by their shared relationship to vibration. This bridge continues to inform my work today as a dance maker, performer, and teacher.

As I grew up, my desire to move only increased. I was fortunate to experience formal dance training on scholarship at The Boston Conservatory and later I pursued graduate research at Trinity Laban Conservatoire in London. Between those two scholastic endeavors, my dancing life brought me away from Boston to the cities of Paris, Amsterdam, and New York and linked me to the influences that became the essential foundations of my current choreographic and performative interests.

Boston Dance Theater (BDT), the contemporary dance repertory company that I founded and currently co-direct, wouldn’t exist if not for my experiences abroad. During my international performance career, I connected with veteran Israeli choreographer Itzik Galili. I first worked with Itzik in Holland where he had his own company and had been knighted by the Dutch Ministry for his contributions to arts and culture. That time working together in Holland sparked a collaboration that directly resulted in the beginnings of BDT, and my role as the company’s leader in Boston.

Today, I am a performer, an educator, a creator, an administrator, and a director. While that feels like a lot sometimes, I’m amazed by the multiplicity of dance as an artistic endeavor and how strongly the form continues to permeate not only the fabric of my life but that of my community.

Every day, dance continues to find me.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
There are many challenges that come with choosing the path of a dancer’s life. I’ve doubted my career choice many times, especially once I entered the ‘market’ post study, as a result of stress or the pressure of paying back school loans or getting access to health care or securing a stable place to live. Historically, a lack of job opportunities, financial stability, or even social acceptance have been barriers that lead dancers away from dedicating time to the studio — making it difficult for them to focus on the fine-tuning of their craft. In spite of these challenges, each day I’ve chosen to fight this mechanism/system by prioritizing my artistic training, performing, and creative time, because I believe that a dancer’s artistic and cultural contribution to society is, and should be recognized as, equally valuable.

Sticking tenaciously to this value system has lead me to a wonderfully rich and creative life by teaching me how to consistently unearth solutions that were once invisible and to forge unexpected partnerships. Although the barriers I’ve mentioned can be difficult to face, there is also a great sense of optimism in the knowledge that these challenges keep pushing myself and my colleagues to grow into new territory. For me, it’s worth the fight.

Boston Dance Theater – what else should we know? What sets you apart from others?
Boston Dance Theater is a dance company, but you could say that, more widely, we’re in the business of collaboration.

BDT launched in February 2018 as an incubator for both artistic and strategic, creative partnerships. A Boston native myself, I noticed talented dancers struggling to find and maintain fulfilling work here in the city. Since New York is so close by and well-known as a dance mecca, local dancers often pack up and leave Boston to seek the wider pool of opportunity two states over. Boston is in the midst of a revamp in its artistic identity. Growth is fantastic. However, like when our bodies grow, there are periods of awkwardness, painful moments, and internal dissonance. One of my goals with BDT, similarly to the aims of many of the other emerging dance companies around me, is to take these moments of transition and craft them into a long-lasting stronghold for local talent.

It has been by fostering creative partnerships with New England-based organizations, such as Emmanuel Music, Emerald Necklace Conservancy, Salem State University, University of Northern Vermont, and Goethe Institut that BDT has consistently provided paid performance opportunities for our artists. The upcoming third annual Summer Immersion Project on June 10-15 at Green Street Studios (Cambridge) is a platform which allows us to provide training, including access to our international repertory, to Boston-based dancers.

I realized that nowhere in Boston was there a contemporary company whose main focus is matching local dancers with masterful choreographers of international acclaim. BDT exists to fill that gap. With a commitment to presenting works of socio-political relevance that challenge the edges of current world issues, I would say that Boston Dance Theater is most known for the incredible repertory that we are commissioning and bringing to Boston.

Last season the hard work and dedication of BDT’s artists and staff won us a spot on the list of Top 10 Dance Performances of 2018 by the Boston Globe. For that program we premiered new and existing works by Itzik Galili (Israel), Yin Yue (China/NY), and Sidra Bell (NY). The work we present is raw, highly athletic, and the 2018 program consisted of a 100% female cast.

Our presenting partner World Music/CRASHarts has invited us back for a second consecutive season at the Institute of Contemporary Art, this time for a three night run on December 13, 14, and 15, 2019. This program will feature work by sought after German choreographer Marco Goecke, and new creations by Shannon Gillen (NY), Micaela Taylor (LA), and Itzik Galili. We are thrilled to support a first time collaboration with all-women vocal group the Lorelei Ensemble this season. And, we have plans to continue expanding our repertoire at an accelerated rate.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
Aside from performing with the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center (on a raked stage, in a field of larger-than-life sized poppy flowers) the proudest moment of my career so far was announcing the company’s Boston debut at the Institute of Contemporary Art. Opportunities for Boston-based companies to be featured on major stages in our own city have been, historically, slim. Having a full length program presented has been even more of a rarity. As a young girl I never would have imagined that I would witness the company I founded up on that stage. The company’s smash hit premiere made me realize that I am a woman venturer in a field where men are usually the leading voice. It was simultaneously surreal and a dream come true. I hope that Boston Dance Theater’s successes can inspire other young female dance artists and undiscovered leaders to continue striving toward their dreams, no matter how far away they might seem.

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Image Credit:

Grant Stinnett, Victoria Awkward, Kate Dube

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