Jessica Lyall – Contemporary Dancer
What do you do?
I'm a dancer with Dansk Danseteater ([DDT] Denmark's National Contemporary Dance Company, based in Copenhagen).
Is this your whole income or do you have other side hustles?
Yes, but I like to take on other interesting projects when the opportunities arise (and I find the time).
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? What are some things you love to do?
Catching up with friends over brunch or dinner and good wine, getting out into nature (I love mountain hiking or being close to the sea), cooking vegetarian meals, checking out an art exhibition or music/theatre/dance performance or exploring vintage clothing stores.
What are three creative tools you couldn't live without?
Music, other inspiring dancers and can I say my body? (haha)
How did you find your way into your current role at Dansk Danseteater ([DDT]?
I auditioned for DDT at a time I was seeking a career transition. I had been dancing for nearly 6 years with Compañia Nacional de Danza ([CND] Spain's National Dance Company) and was searching for a change of scene and new professional challenges.
I began dancing very young and at around the age of 13-14 I realised that I wanted to pursue it professionally, and ultimately that I wanted to base myself in Europe. I was fascinated by the European dance scene, and particularly the work produced by European contemporary dance choreographers.
I left Australia at 17 to complete my training in London's Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance and towards the end of my 3 years there began auditioning for companies I was interested in. At that point I was offered a job with CND. At CND I performed and toured classical, neo-classical and contemporary repertoire, but I realised my interest really lay in contemporary dance and my move to DDT was in pursuit of this, and a desire for new cultural experiences.
Can you describe a working day for you?
My day starts with a warm up class (usually ballet but sometimes yoga, Gaga or various forms of strength training), and often I will have gone to the gym or practiced pilates exercises beforehand. After class the rest of the day is dedicated to rehearsing and/or creating works of/for our repertoire which we perform in Copenhagen and on national and international tours.
What are your work hours and how does this impact your lifestyle?
My hours are generally 10-5, Monday-Friday which is a nice schedule to follow and permits time for other interests and a social life. However, performing and touring follows quite a different schedule (something like 2-10/11pm Tuesday-Sunday), but I enjoy the changes of schedule and particularly love touring. The only difficulty can sometimes be making plans ahead of time as my free time/holidays are limited/predetermined and last minute changes can occur that I have little control over.
What are the perks of your job?
(Well, aside from living off my lifelong passion)…
Visiting, performing and living in different countries.
Meeting and working with people from all over the world.
Collaborating with and learning from different artists.
The free MAC makeup isn't too bad either (haha).
What are some of the challenges you encounter?
Living far from home.
Not always being able to "switch off" from work.
Finding a work/life balance.
What are some pitfalls you often see artists making?
Not being prepared and organised for auditions and application preparation. Not enough importance is placed on writing skills, especially considering that the CV and cover letter is often the first thing seen in audition applications. Also, having current and professional photo/video footage is necessary to have on hand at all times.
I also have seen and experienced a lack in ability to speak up in regards to our rights and needs as artists. As we are not in our business "for the money" it is often too easy to take advantage of the passion and willingness of artists, but our time and effort should be respected and paid for accordingly – like any other profession. Just because we love what we do, doesn't mean we should do it for free! Having said that, an artistic 'trade' in the form of collaborations between artists of different forms can be fun and valuable in the exchange of skills.
For all the creative artists in our community, what are some tips that you've learned throughout your career?
Go with the flow, don't try to control everything. Be prepared and open to all experiences so that you’ll be able to respond quickly when opportunities arise. I've found the surprises in my career to be the most rewarding, better than anything I could have planned for myself!
Speak up! Our voices deserved to be heard and respected. Unfortunately in artistic professions there is often a lot of ego (and insecurity) flying around, but there is a big difference between being assertive and speaking honestly and openly (with respect of course) and being arrogant or self-promoting.
Never burn bridges, artistic communities are small and close-knit. That's not to say that all experiences will be great, but just take care in how you deal with the ones that don't turn out so well.
Why do you work in the arts and why do you create?
I think art is such an important part of everyday life as it reflects and expresses the mood and climate socially and culturally. It can be a way to open minds, challenge perspectives, pose questions, as well as to entertain and emotionally enrich people. Working in the arts also enables you to really explore, express and grow personally alongside professionally.
What do you think it means to live a creative life?
I think it means tapping into, expressing and processing your ideas and feelings on a daily basis. Allowing your heart and mind to merge and drive you, and hopefully to inspire others to do the same.