For this etc magazine feature, I met a dancer exploring the millennial experience through movement
[This article was featured in the March version of the West Sussex etc magazines. The original version can be read on pages 32 and 33 here: edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk/launch.aspx?pbid=cdbd86eb-0ed9-41e5-a590-031651c44a1c, and the PDF is available at the bottom of this blog post.]
Dancer Ella Fleetwood has had quite a journey, travelling from the quiet countryside of Duncton and into the national spotlight.
Ella, the daughter of Caroline and Martin Fleetwood, who run Duncton Mill trout farm and fishery near Petworth, credits her passion for dance from her love of moving, something she was able to enjoy a lot of during her youth.
“Duncton is a very beautiful but quiet place to grow up!” Ella explains. “My parents being farmers meant I experienced a very rural childhood. I look back on it now with beautifully fond memories – walking around the lakes with all our animals whenever I wanted.”
Passionate from a young age for dancing, Ella studied at local dance schools and at her high school, Barnham’s St Philip Howard. At the age of 16, she was accepted into the Centre for Advanced Training programme at The Place, before training at Trinity Laban in Greenwich and graduating with a First Class degree in July 2016.
“Dance has helped me find my unique voice, as cliche as it sounds, it is another level of self expression and creativity that is unrivalled for me,” explains Ella. “Dancing is fun, creative and challenging – we should all dance, even just to find out more about yourself! You know that extraordinary feeling of just being and grooving to the music – I think that is something we all share, and certainly don’t tap into enough! Just put on a great song, feel it and move.”
After being commissioned by the GradLab project, which is supported by the University of Chichester, Ella spent last summer creating a new piece of dance work. Returning to her home county was a positive experience for the dancer, who is now based in Clapham, London: “I still feel a strong connection with Sussex. I definitely feel that my idyllic childhood has influenced me as a maker and definitely see myself moving back to the countryside in the future!”
The performance she created, produced while working in the university’s studios, is entitled #nofilter.
“This new piece explores what it means to be a millennial in a comedic and zesty dance theatre work,” explained Ella. Exploring millennial life through a fast paced series of images, movement and dialogue, #nofilter is performed by a quartet, of which Ella is one fourth. She says that the performance is designed to ‘ponder the curious and fantastical traits of millennial life’ and ‘delve into the intricacies of life as a millennial’.
I asked Ella why she thought that the millennial experience is an important story to tell through dance. “Making dance work that is relevant and reflective of our actual lives is what’s important to me as an artist,” Ella replied. “Being a millennial, I felt intrigued by the quite frankly bizarre and fantastical traits of millennial life – Kim Kardashian, avocado on toast and selfies to name a few. Millennial life is much lived and experienced online- through social media and communication strands. How we portray ourselves online is a kind of performance- we chose what we post and how we post it- it’s crafted and performed. I wanted to challenge this notion and transfer this onto a performative stage setting. Quite literally put all the millennial stereotypes on stage. The piece takes you through fast snapshots of different movements, sounds and images. It’s an assault on your senses- constantly changing and challenging you. Just like being on your phone. The piece is comedic, which allows audiences to connect with the work without feeling judged or lectured. It’s just one reflection of millennial life, you can laugh and enjoy it but also realise there are some problems with it. And it’s in our hands to talk about it and shape our future.”
After being shared across the South Coast, #nofilter premiered in London in early January as part of a triple bill on the opening weekend of the renowned Resolution festival at The Place. “It went very well, and was a very successful evening,” Ella told me. “We had a packed theatre and everyone laughing – which is the aim!”
This performance followed a series of successes for Ella, who also teaches dance, and opened last year’s Festival of Chichester with a series of improvisational dances accompanied by a local jazz band. “I regularly devise site-specific outdoor performance projects, bringing contemporary dance to Sussex in a new and fresh way,” she continues. “I created a new dance piece based in a Chapel ruin in the heart of a Cemetery in Nunhead, East London – so love to bring dance to new and weird places and audiences! I also facilitate community projects and lead dance workshops in local schools with a focus on inclusivity – life as a dancer certainly isn’t normal!”
The future looks bright for Ella, who speaks with passion about where she imagines her work will take her.
“I want to continue making contemporary dance work that is bold, accessible and relevant. To bring new audiences to contemporary dance- to entertain, challenge and excite them!” she tells me. “I would love to continue to keep dancing, performing and collaborating on a range of arts projects- particularly in unusual public locations! Plus, to grow the community and outreach strand of ella&co. Inclusive dance practise is incredibly important to me as an artist. I don’t believe in making and performing dance work that isn’t fully integrated and reflected in the community where it was created. Community and education is a vital strand of my practise as an artist, I want to keep reaching new groups of people through outreach projects. Encouraging more people to feel the groove in the hard to reach areas of our society.”
Find out more about Ella, her work, and her company at www.ellaandco.org.