Jen Mesch didn’t formally take dance lessons until university, but she’s been moving to music all her life. “If I had the house to myself as a teenager, I would clear all the furniture out of the living room, turn on music and do things that were dance, to me,” she says. Mesch used to love going to high school dances, but not in the hopes of getting close to her crush — “I was kind of the weirdo that would be the first one on the floor because I had the most space to dance to the B-52’s. Then, once it got crowded, I’d clear out and make room for everybody else.”
She would win dance contests, but when she actually auditioned, she was told to learn more dance fundamentals. But her lack of early life dance lessons also meant she lacked the “dancer baggage” that bogs down so many young dancers. “I didn’t have all the hangups about my body. I didn’t have the ‘studio mom’ experience. I didn’t have dance ever presented to me as a particularly girly or feminine thing. It was never sexualized.”
Her years of hosting solo, living room dance parties also armed her with a quality most typical dance kids didn’t get a chance to develop. “I actually got into a dance university program because of my improv skills. I was recognized as someone who’s interesting in that way.”
Today, she keeps things interesting with the Jen Mesch Dance Conspiracy, which will perform Go Where Light Is this weekend as part of Mile Zero Dance’s Carte Blanche Season in its new venue, a transformed machine shop next to Monolith Brewing in the Ritchie neighbourhood.
Why is it a conspiracy? “I saw myself, I suppose, as a bit of a renegade because I did have this late start. And when I looked around, a lot of the dance company names that I saw were either kind of pretty or something that was kind of inspiring, like Wellspring. And the imagery around dance logos was always like a ballerina, or somebody doing an arabesque, or something sort of sweet or pretty. I don’t think people use the word ‘tomboy’ anymore, but that’s what I saw myself as. I like to do things that are gritty, and I also like working with other artists. And so I just thought that, rather than calling myself a collaborative group, I decided to call myself a conspiracy.”
Ever the renegade, this performance will feature nine dancers, all of whom are over 30 (or 40) years old. “It’s really interesting to me to have dancers that have a lot of experience, and to give them an opportunity to keep dancing. I think we’re getting into a new era where dancers can keep dancing, and we are more open to different kinds of bodies in the dance space, whether it’s people who are heavier than what’s traditionally called normal dance weight. My dancers are gorgeous, and I’m really grateful for them.”
Mesch doesn’t call Go Where Light Is her COVID piece, but over the past few years, the self-described “person of solitude” started to miss everybody, “and I thought, well, if I have the time, then rather than making a very large improv structure, I would actually create something that was much more structured and much more choreographed.”
It’s also more collaborative, using live music from her husband, Scott Smallwood, and Stephan Moore, and video projections from aAron Munson. Her inspiration came in part from growing up with her dad, an amateur astronomer who would take Mesch and her sisters to the observatory in their small town to look through the telescope. “I had a very early concept of, I guess, the universe. And during the pandemic, I’ve really had this really strong sense of the universe not being something very far out there in the sky at night, but something that’s just always around us. It’s very organic, and not something that requires high technology or big devices to experience because we are always experiencing it, we just don’t always think about it.”
Join the conspiracy (no tin-foil hat required) March 16 to 18.