Natalie James – make anything work

Natalie Nicole James is a movement and circus artist. From 2012-2015, Natalie studied at the National Centre for Circus Arts; she received a full scholarship to train and specialise in dance-trapeze, graduating with a BA Honours. After working with Impact Dance Company and Sean Graham Dance Theatre, Natalie began a performance career as a soloist exploring her own artistic voice whilst performing as part of the Beijing Olympics Torch ceremony.

Natalie’s performance credits and development opportunities include Breakin’ Convention at Sadler’s Wells, encompassing mentorship from Jonzi D, Henri Oguike and Jasmin Vardimon. She has also performed under the artistic direction of Ivan Blackstock for Dance Umbrella and Breakin’ Convention. Natalie has since performed in Metta Theatre’s remake of Kipling’s classic tale Jungle Book, and she is currently leading classes across London in dance and circus.

Have you always wanted to be on stage?

Yes and no. I have always been artistic, flexible and athletic, but I’d say ‘no’ in the sense that until I became a mum, I didn’t see myself being on stage as a profession. I have, however, always enjoyed sharing creativity with others and exchanging experiences and stories. I was recently reminded of how I used to force family members to watch my self-made shows or my cartwheels and splits. I’m laughing looking back at the cringey memories I have of my primary school days. My friends and I used to put on Spice Girls shows and make people watch us.

Where did you train, and what was it like?

I trained in dance at Brooksby Melton College in Leicestershire, and in Circus Arts at the National Centre for Circus Arts in London. On my dance course it was an easier environment to create and explore non-conventional ways of exploring the space. Studying circus was intense physically and emotionally demanding. I found myself out of my comfort zone in some areas but there were many new areas which were very natural to me. I have always been very aware of my strengths and weaknesses, which helps if you like to challenge yourself or stretch your limits to advance.

Describe a day in your life.

Every day is always different. I wake up and help my daughter prepare for school and I then get myself ready. Depending on what day of the week it is, I will work for Mercedes Benz. If I’m not there, I am in the studio training or teaching, as I am now teaching workshops extensively throughout the UK. I may have a morning run or go to the gym, but this generally revolves around my shifts. In the evenings there will be some cleaning involved, cooking, spending quality time with my daughter and making sure everything is ok for both of our day to day needs. At varied times I will do some research and development as preparation for current and future projects.

What has been the defining moment of your career?

At the start of 2016 I accepted the role of Mowgli for Metta Theatre’s remake of Jungle Book. From September 2015 to January 2016 I hesitated in signing because I wasn’t sure how my daughter would manage with me being away for such a long period. To my surprise she demanded that I accept the job and even suggested who she should stay with. This period was a defining moment because I realised that I can make anything work – as with anyone who has the right mentality and support. My daughter was so content which was a great encouragement for me in pursuing something that I am passionate about.

What has been the most challenging?

The most challenging part of my career is probably the freelance aspect of the arts industry. I like security, organisation and effective plans. There have been times where I haven’t wanted to be an artist because of the feeling of lack of security during some moments. I’m over this now however as it’s a wasted focus. I put my energy into productive thinking and actions that are of benefit. Sometimes childcare can be tricky and other times it’s super simple and straightforward.
What’s the most rewarding thing about the performing arts in general?

I don’t think there’s one single thing. Performing arts create opportunities to engage, provoke, inspire and entertain. To me there is a timelessness about that. I love the process in between creating and the moment of performance. Ironically, for me the time on stage is like a night off work, surrounded by your closest friends. Even when performing a solo or communicating a deep message it is a great reward to be able to share this process with other creatives and mixtures of audiences.

What’s the worst thing?

Tough question.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

I wouldn’t say this is a ritual but I enjoy praying before I go on stage or before my performance begins. Just in general giving thanks to God for all things and putting my trust in Him.
How will you be part of this year’s Breakin’ Convention? How is this different to previous years?

I will be choreographing a dance trapeze solo for the main stage in collaboration with scenographer Kate Late. I’d say this year will be different because I have grown as an artist and as a business woman, gaining knowledge and experience in the past five years since I submitted my work and performed at BC 2012. As far as I’m aware I am the first person to bring trapeze to Breakin’ Convention, so this will be a different element in comparison to previous years.

What is your advice to an aspiring artist?

I would say, regularly challenge yourself. Honour your word. No one wants to work with the individual who can’t be reliable. Value the expertise of others who have been in the industry longer than you, but it is ok to not take on board things that don’t work for you as an artist. Don’t be afraid to be different or to have different ideas and opinions. Learn to discern who is there to just take from you and who is there out of appreciation for you as an individual. There will be times when people do not have your best interests at heart, but that’s ok if you are confident in who you are and what you are about. Sometimes others will not see your potential so you have to have thick skin and be persistent as well consistent. If you want to lead for a long-lasting time, learn to first follow in a variety of settings.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working on numerous collaborations and developing a series of work for the stage based around the idea of transformation. I have also had the desire, for many years, to publish books for small children, teens and adults. I am in the early stages of this new process, and cannot wait to see these ideas come to life. At some point in the future I would like to have my own performing arts school in London and Leicester.

Image credit: Drew Tommons