The first brave soul to be interviewed for our series is Jessie Donaghy, a dancer and writer and all around amazing lady. Read on to learn why she advocates for walking in the rain, joining in community, and asking your mother the tough questions.
Q: What is your favorite space to create?
Jessie Donaghy: When I dance, I love to choreograph in the studio with the lights off and the windows open. I usually stretch while listening to the music several times with my eyes closed. Imagery and movement always comes to me in my mind’s eye first. Once I have images to work with, I begin dancing and creating movement.
When I write, my best work comes forth when I have been spending a lot of time outside in nature. A friend once told me that man was made for mountains, not mirrors. I find this to be especially true when it comes to writing. When I take the time to immerse myself in the natural world, I sense God’s nearness and feel more aware of His invisible life. Have you ever intentionally taken a walk in the rain in the spring? Try it.
Q: How do you handle artist’s block (times when it is hard to create)?
JD: In dance, when I feel like I cannot come up with any new movement, I usually take a break from dance altogether and do something else that is active, like yoga or a brisk walk around the park. I trust that as long as I keep my body moving and conditioned, the choreography will come when it is supposed to come.
When I feel dry as a writer, I will try to do a few pages of stream-of-consciousness writing in the morning to try and get past whatever is blocking me creatively. I will also refrain from writing new work for a little while, and turn to editing old work. If I am not creating, I try to at least edit and revise.
Q: How do you stay motivated and disciplined as an artist in our distracting society?
JD: I try to surround myself with things that inspire me: books, music, visual art, films, and people who are like-minded and hungry to create. I also keep a file of “aesthetic inspirations”, where I keep clippings and pictures that inspire me. Each day, I try to do at least one thing that feeds the “lake of creativity”, as Jean Rhys puts it. Even if I am not creating everyday, I can be feeding the lake that I will draw from in the future when I do create. Being an artist is more than just picking up your chosen discipline whenever you “feel inspired”. As an artist who follows Christ, I see my art as my vocation, which requires that I be a good steward.
Q: What is the best advice someone has given you?
JD: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” -Martha Graham
Q: Who/what has inspired you lately and/or locally (i.e. other artists, exhibits, shows, bands, designers, etc)?
JD: Dario Marianelli’s soundtrack for Jane Eyre
Movers and Shakers exhibition at The Museum of Contemporary Art of Atlanta. At Movers and Shakers, I especially enjoyed Brian Dettmer’s Organized Knowledge in Story and Picture.
gloATL’s Hinterland at Woodruff Park
The Paul Taylor Company at the Rialto
Q: Have you worked in your medium in some sort of community lately, be it collaboration, brainstorming, etc? How has that environment affected the work?
JD: In dance, I recently became a member of Refuge Dance Company. Refuge is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, Atlanta-based contemporary and modern company. One of the main purposes of Refuge Dance Company is to present innovative works that display the dancer in an authentic manner as both a person and an artist with the goal of presenting dance in a way that is accessible for everyone. Being a part of this group of dancers has inspired me to work towards not only maintaining excellence in my art, but also to creating work that is meaningful and authentic.
In writing, I have had the honor of taking part in the monthly Trinity Writers Group. I have presented work, and have also had the chance to provide feedback for other writers. I also meet with two incredibly talented writers, Jessica and Kitti, on a regular basis to workshop our most recent works. Additionally, I am helping to head up a new creative writing program in Atlanta called (W)ink, with two incredible individuals, Jessica Haberkern and Jake Perez.
Q: What is one book/song/painting/piece/etc that has been enriching to your faith?
JD: Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water
Q: What is your connection to the Divine when you create? Does it resonate with you spiritually when you come up with new work?
JD: Since God is the ultimate Creator and we are made in His image, it only makes sense that God desires us to create as well. I view being an artist like being a vessel; I am not the catalyst for my art, I am just a vessel that I hope God can pour inspiration and ideas in to as He chooses. When I am in communion with Him and that moment of inspiration hits, it feels like a gift. It is as if the veil is lifted for a moment and I catch a glimpse of what’s behind the curtain of the ordinary. Those moments strengthen my faith in God a great deal. I’m not sure if this is the case with all artists who are also Christians, but that is my experience.
Q: Describe your process behind the featured piece.
JD: The piece that I have chosen to share is a dance entitled, “Questions for my Mother”, by Angella Foster. I performed this piece on May 1st with Refuge Dance Company at the Fabrefaction Theatre (www.refugedance.org). The cast is 8 women, and the piece is based on actual questions that we each have asked, or wish we could ask, our mothers. There are humorous and lighthearted questions, but also heavy and sobering questions. We learned the entire piece over the course of two days and 10 hours.
In the beginning of rehearsal, we had the chance to share our individual questions with the rest of the cast. It was amazing to hear the range of questions: some similar to my own, and some vastly different.. From there we began to translate individual questions into movement. From the get go, I was emotionally invested in the piece since I was translating my own questions into phrases of dance. As rehearsal progressed and the piece began to take shape, I was surprised to find myself hit with a range of emotions; some movement conjured up humorous images of my childhood, while other movement flooded my mind with memories of pain and regret. By the time we finished the piece, I was physically bruised and drained, and emotionally worn out. It was a good kind of worn out though, a kind of catharsis. Performing this piece was a meaningful experience, especially since my mother attended the show. For me, the piece came full circle when she saw it.