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Nottdance 2011

27 February 11 interview: Alison Kirkman

Nottdance, run by terpsichorean titans Dance4, is one of the longest-running dance festivals in the UK. To celebrate the festival's 21st birthday, Dance4 is laying out the biggest series of events yet and, according to Chief Executive and Artistic Director Paul Russ, nowhere is off-limits...

Can you begin by explaining what Dance4 and Nottdance are?
In short, Dance4 is an organisation that provides artists and audiences with opportunities to engage in dance. Nottdance is our annual festival; originally conceived for audiences who don’t usually get the opportunity to see a dance performance. Over the years Nottdance has also become an opportunity to showcase international artists here and very much a shop window to the work that Dance4 is doing. There’s always something intriguing as part of the festival and we aim for it to reflect the nature of the city and it’s artistic, cultural scene.

How do you think Nottdance has changed since you took over as artistic director in 2008?
For me it feels important to acknowledge it as a local, as well as an international, festival. We want the community to be intrigued and to feel actively engaged. We’re presenting work in a variety of different contexts and places where people wouldn’t expect to see a dance performance. We’re also having lots of discursive events where we’re inviting the public to throw in their opinion about what they see.

Which venues will people be able to see Nottdance performances in?
There will be a performance in the Broadmarsh Centre – a free event on a Sunday afternoon. There’s also a performance by Simon Ellis and his company that will take place across the city centre. It’s a silent piece called Leaving and is right at the end of the festival, so we’ll be winding up and exploring the notions of how people leave and what they take with them. It’s a really beautiful, soft piece that might go unnoticed, or could be quite stark for people as they walk through the city. We’ll also be presenting work at Nottingham Contemporary, in a few spaces at Lakeside and we’re working with Hopkinson Gallery, putting on some discussions and mini-events. We’re trying to break free of all the traditional spaces and encourage people to see dance in a different way.

Can you recommend one event for a complete novice to attend?
I would say Samir Akika/Unusual Symptoms with Extended Teenage Era. It’s full of wit and charm, it’s highly physical – with lots of people moving and dancing – but it’s got a wicked sense of humour and is really thought-provoking.

A lot of high-profile artists are taking part – Lea Anderson and Charles Linehan are the standouts. How did you get them involved?
Lea is a new one at the festival but Charles has been attached to Dance4 for a long time now. We invited him not only to showcase some work, but also to help us curate one of the evenings. Lea Anderson is an artist who’s made a really significant contribution to dance in the UK. For this year’s festival I wanted established makers in the UK to acknowledge that Nottdance is an important part of the dance infrastructure here. So I approached Lea and asked her to make a contribution in some small way and hopefully over future years she’s going to do more work in Nottingham. It’ll be really exciting to see her work develop here, because of the nature of it not only being in theatres but in lots of peculiar places.

Do you have a personal attachment to Nottingham?
I’m from Burton-on-Trent originally; a little town in the middle of nowhere, not much of an artistic scene, but not too far away. I arrived in Nottingham as a student and felt like I’d hit the metropolis. There was so much to go and see, so much to do. Because I was studying performance and dance at Trent, I very quickly uncovered the delights of Dance4. I even volunteered on Nottdance for a couple of years back in the mid-nineties.
For a city the size of Nottingham we have lots going for us and when you look at other comparative cities – even bigger cities like Manchester – there aren’t half as many things as we have. People should feel thrilled about that, because it is really exciting.

Dance has been in the public eye over the last few years with Strictly Come Dancing and Britain’s Got Talent. How do you feel about that?
I thoroughly enjoy them! Whether that’s a cool thing to say or not, I don’t know. But if it means people are talking about dance, watching it, engaging with it, and having a critical eye on it, I think that’s fantastic. The notion of people having dance in their lives has improved because of those shows. There are some really impressive statistics about dance being one of the most desired sports in schools now too, so it’s not only seen as an art form but as a physical activity.

What would you say to people who think dance is an elitist art form?
I think there are elements of dance that are elitist, but there’s nothing too wrong with that. Having elite dancers and elite performance work is about celebrating the best of what people can achieve. As an organisation we strive to make things accessible and understandable to the population at large, by creating ways to show that everyone can get something out of that fantastic work.

Do you think there’s still a stigma attached to being a male ballet dancer?
It’s significantly less of a problem but I think there will always be a bit of a stigma. But I think that’s one of the good things about the dance on television now. It’s helping to break down some of those notions that dance isn’t really for men. At Dance4 we have a lot more boys now engaging in dance, and lots more parents are supportive of their sons doing so.

What music have you heard recently that made you want to shake your arse?
Well, you can’t beat a bit of New Order. But one artist I’ve been listening to a lot is Janelle Monáe. Her video for Tightrope is just great. It is a bit pretentious – all those pop videos really are - but the movement is fantastic. That tune has certainly had me moving in the last few days.

Fred Astaire or Michael Jackson?
It has to be Fred Astaire. I can’t possibly vote for Michael Jackson.

Jane Torvill or Christopher Dean?
That’s a hard question as they come as a pair, but I would say Christopher Dean was the better choreographer.

Anything else you’d like to say to LeftLion readers?
Nottingham is a fantastically funky, creative, intriguing and innovative place that has a kind of worldly view. I think Nottdance really reflects a sense of what the city is and who the people here are. So come down and enjoy what’s undoubtedly going to be a fantastic festival.

Nottdance takes place across various venues from 23 February – 13 March 2011.

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