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Dance4's New International Centre for Choreography

17 September 16 words: Alison Emm
They've made it their business to ensure UK and international dance artists are given opportunities and audiences for their work
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Through producing, commissioning programming, training, festivals and touring, Dance4 have made it their business to ensure UK and international dance artists are given opportunities and audiences for their work. They’ve been at the helm of bi-annual dance festival Nottdance since 1997 and, alongside Notts TV and Nottingham Playhouse, were behind the dance-film project, Mass Bolero, that starred our own Torvill and Dean and launched not only NEAT14, but Notts TV too. Back in 2009, Dance4 also branched out with their Centre for Advanced Training (CAT), a programme for eleven- to eighteen-year-olds that brings in choreographers from around the globe to share their pearls of wisdom.

Now, with the move to their new home in Space 2 – an old hosiery factory – they will be launching the iC4C in September 2016. This will be somewhere that artists can work, get support, and have space to research, produce and distribute new choreographic work – and the work isn’t just for us folk here, but audiences nationally and internationally. If that’s not going to make Nottingham jump out on the dance map, we don’t know what will.

To get a feel for what all this actually means, we spoke to the Chief Executive and Artistic Director, plus two of Dance4’s autumn season’s artists-in-residence…

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Lucy Suggate is a contemporary dancer and choreographer who’s been producing work since 2003. Hailing from Yorkshire, she’s previously worked with Dance4 for Nottdance 2015 and this autumn she’ll be taking advantage of the new premises as artist-in-residence…

What are your thoughts on the new space?
Really beautiful and well thought-out. It’s a home to create, research and push the art form forward. They’re able to support independent artists like myself, and their understanding of the contemporary dance landscape is really quite rare in terms of the UK dance sector.

Tell us about the work you’re developing during your residency, Swarm Sculptures...
It’s a durational movement installation that looks at using ideas around swarm intelligence and rules. I’m working with professionals and nonprofessionals, using this group of bodies in a visual arts context, and finding a form out of those simple choreographic ideas. The participants are from prior projects as well as from Dance4’s brilliant outreach, so from the local community by way of a call-out.

A part of Swarm Sculptures is your research into trance and dance…
It’s the idea of trance-like states that dancing can induce with the use of electronic music, but also the ideas around synchronicity and the infectious nature of movement and music. With trance, there’s also this idea of something immersive, so everybody – even if you’re just listening to music – is somehow consumed by the experience.

You said you wanted to avoid the usual and limited formations of dance choreography – do you feel that you’ve achieved that?
I think I have. It’s inviting people to get very close; encounter it like you would a sculpture. But because it’s a live piece that moves and changes its form, it can take itself to the spectator and decide how it inhabits space. The idea of everybody being in a fixed position or movement only occupying a very defined area is no longer apparent – or we’re trying to break that down, at least. It’s amazing how when people start seeing moving bodies they all scurry to the back wall.

Bodies organise themselves to construct something very specific – giant sculptural forms, like fleshy Lego. You never really see bodies formed in that way unless it’s in an awful scenario – but it’s not like that, it’s not haphazard or accidental, there’s a point of construction and a sensitivity to it. The bodies transcend their form and become a larger part of a landscape, like they could be the surface of the ocean, or a patchwork blanket.

You’ll be doing walkthroughs, which isn’t the norm in dance. Is it something you’ve done before?
It’s giving dance the opportunity to not just rely on programme notes. I’m part of Dancing Museums, a project that’s been researching placing dance in traditional museums like the Louvre and the National Gallery. Through that, I’ve been encountering, or seeing, how visual arts context works with disseminating information to the audience. Without the theatre setting, I felt that [walkthroughs] were a way of offering an insight into the process, a bit of context as to where this sits within the larger field of dance practice, like an art historian might do.

You normally work as a solo artist, how does Swarm Sculptures compare?
With my solo work, I drop into another state where I think I can do anything. It becomes a playground of perceptual possibilities that clash with physical limitations. It gives a new way of moving and thinking, which might produce this slightly different movement vocabulary I’m becoming known for. But when I can step out of the work, I see it unfolding, giving me a perspective on steering it. To aid people who haven’t danced before, I’ve created a map, score or code that’ll help them do the performance. I enjoy that, it’s quite methodical and logical – I want people to go from A to B. What’s the most effective way for them to do that? It’s problem solving.

How hard is it to cut a path and stand out in the contemporary dance world?
You have to be extremely determined. A thousand times I’ve been told “no” – maybe that’s what comes out in my solo practice, an agitation or deep-rooted rage of “You will not stop me from doing this.” I developed a practice where I don’t need a lot from anyone else; just a space. By doing the work, finding a way of practising every day, it somehow provides you with the strength to carry on. But I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now without the support of Dance4, it’s been absolutely vital: there’s only so much you can do on your own without some encouragement. Like most art, it requires an audience to complete the cycle.

Swarm Sculptures, Nottingham Contemporary, Saturday 17 - Sunday 18 September 2016, free. Artist walkthrough, Saturday 17 September, 1pm - 1.30pm, free.
Project Bonedust website

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We quizzed Paul Russ, the Chief Executive and Artistic Director of Dance4, on what the new space means and what they’ve got lined up in the coming months...

You’re all settled into the new premises now – how have the first few months been?
We’re still pinching ourselves that we’re here – every day it’s such a thrill to walk into the new centre and feel on the verge of an amazing adventure for the organisation and all the artists, producers, partners and people we’re going to be working with. We’re ready to create exciting, collaborative possibilities, offering a unique place for performing arts, plus broadcast, film and media, to find new ways to research, create, distribute and learn.

What can visitors expect?
The unexpected. We continue to invite audiences and artists to take part and see extraordinary new choreographic works that are at the forefront of UK and international dance and performance making. We’ve so many wonderful opportunities for the public to directly work with internationally renowned artists in the making, to present new research and works.

Do you have any artist residencies planned?
Lots. They range from research projects with H2Dance (Norway/Sweden/UK) to production residencies with Gabriele Reuter (DE/UK) and Colette Sadler (DE/UK), all utilising our new spaces to bring about new dance and choreographic works that, until now, we simply wouldn’t have been able to support in quite the same way. Lucy Suggate is a great performer and maker, with an incredible ability to work with non-professionals in a collaborative way to bring about thrilling new dance works. She excites us as she brings great ideas and a generous spirit that means artists, participants and audiences are all profoundly touched by her presence.  

Victor Fung has been using Dance4, and particularly Dance4’s CAT, to work towards his doctorate on the development of creativity in young dancers...
The research came about as Dance4 and Middlesex University have a long-standing relationship in supporting artists undertaking doctorate research. Victor is a dance artist with a strong pedagogic practice, which matched well with our desire to understand how to further develop the curriculum on offer to young, gifted dance students. The project will define a new future for dance training, one that better prepares young dance artists for their careers.

Dance4 have just recruited their fifth apprentice – what kind of work will they be doing and what are the benefits of the scheme to Dance4 and to them?
The Creative Apprentice has been such an important part of Dance4’s work in supporting young people and/or those without higher-level qualifications find new routes into a creative career. They get involved in so much; supporting the programming, producing projects; they develop front of house and promotion skills, project and financial management skills; and become knowledgeable about a range of future routes for their careers. Our first apprentice is now a manager at the Place in London – one of the UK’s most decorated dance organisations. Without our apprenticeship opportunity, we are told their careers just wouldn’t have been this exciting. I just hope other creative organisations develop such programmes.

Anything else you’d like to say to LeftLion readers?
There are so many ways to get a sample of what we do. Come to one of our Sunday Supplements as they are a great way to meet us. You get to join us for a breakfast and talk to artists directly about their work – we do a good cuppa, so that’s a reason in itself.

Dance4’s iC4C will be opening in September. Check their website and brochure for full listings and details.
Dance4 website

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A dance artist and urbanist, Gabriele Reuter lives between Berlin and Nottingham. Having worked with Dance4 in various forms since 2008, she helped in the development of the new space and is back this September to work on her latest collaborative work with sound artist Mattef Kuhlmey...

You’re based between Berlin and Nottingham – what first brought you here?
I did a BA in Contemporary Dance and Arts Management at De Montfort University in 1999-2001, and I loved the Nottdance festival; it was experimental and bold. Some years later, I applied to Dance4 for a residency to do my first solo piece, Inventory/Räumung, which they showed at Nottdance. I moved my artistic base to Nottingham and now it’s like a second home. I’m part of the artistic community here – I hope that can continue following Brexit.

You’re currently collaborating with sound artist Mattef Kuhlmey on your show, The Amplitude...
Collaboration is challenging because you are in constant negotiation, you need to be clear with what you want and need, and be open to change. If it works out, it’s a hugely enriching way of working. I find it’s easier when working with another discipline, and Mattef is very versatile so it’s been particularly good. He transforms the movement into sound, which he mixes and composes into music live on stage.

Most of the work was done in 2015, we’re currently preparing for its premiere at Nottingham Lakeside Arts, developing lecture performance versions and workshop formats for the autumn tour. We also plan to create a version for a club – where people are ready to dance and we can create the music live on the night. Thinking broadly about interdisciplinary collaboration also means connecting to audiences of other disciplines – an audience for electronic music won’t necessarily come to see a dance performance, so we go to the club.

The show itself is described as “movement and sound collide in space” – can audiences expect a multi-media aspect to the production?
They do collide in space, but not just in the piece, they do it all the time. We wanted to give more detail on how sound works and how movement produces sound. There’s dance, sound and light in the production, it’s the physical experience of sound travelling through the room, through the audience.

Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for the piece?
I’ve worked with the notion of the empty space of the stage not being empty through several dance pieces. It started in 2008, with the piece Inventory/Räumung, and is ongoing research; knowing there’s more to what we see is endlessly fascinating to me. And it relates to the world outside of dance. The Amplitude developed from the same place – developing sensitivity and empathy towards our environment. I felt the next logical thing to explore was sound. Movement produces acoustic waves – we just can’t always hear them: first there is movement, then sound. Not the other way around. This felt like it was worth taking further with a sound artist, so we started very simple; from the idea of the acoustic wave.

You’ve worked a lot with Dance4 over the last nine years and were involved with the pre-development consultation of the iC4C. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Early on, Paul Russ asked me to be involved because of my interest in architecture and urban studies and because of my long relationship with Dance4. For him, it was important to involve dance artists in all stages of the process, because the building is for artists and for building relationships with Sneinton and St. Ann’s. I was asked to converse with local residents to try and understand what people needed and wanted in relation to what Dance4 could offer. Feedback from these conversations went into the planning and building.

That sounds amazing, to work so closely with the neighbouring communities...
I also did Hidden Spaces – the sound installation with local social history at Backlit. And when I did my MA thesis in Historical Urban Studies, I was shocked by the local residents’ incredibly low interest for some public consultations Dance4 and I had set up, and wanted to find out why. I researched community participation in urban planning in Nottingham from the sixties onwards, and from that I understood why no one bothers to go to consultation meetings anymore. Dance4 and the artists they are working with can now be sensitive and understanding when attempting to collaborate with local residents in the coming years.

How important do you think organisations like Dance4 are to the contemporary dance world?
They’re absolutely essential, if not existential. My work would have developed in a very different way if it wasn’t for their support. As producers of the Nottdance festival, Dance4 tours artists across the UK and is very involved in educational work. With the fabulous new studios at iC4C, Dance4 has clearly upped its game. It’s an international dance centre now. It’s a bit staggering, but an exciting transformation to be part of.

The Amplitude, Lakeside Arts Centre, Tuesday 4 October, 7.30pm
Gabriel Reuter website

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