Paul Russ speaks to Left Lion about Dance4's Move to a New Building
East Midland's dance agency, Dance4, was established 25 years ago. Since then it has supported some of the world's top dance artists and become known across the world for continuously questioning dance practice.
Happily though, when it moves to new premises next year, its roots will be planted firmly in Nottingham.
Is the Creative Quarter where you feel Dance4 belongs?
Definitely. We were based in Hockley for fifteen years before moving away, so it feels a bit like coming home.
I used to work in a bar in Sneinton and I’ve seen some extraordinary artists working in and around the area. It’s got a great community, too – spirited and really united. By locating ourselves there, rather than in the city centre, we can hopefully reach out to the community in a way that other organisations don’t.
When we invite artists to make work in Nottingham, we want them to meet Nottingham. We want them to meet Nottingham people and to work with them. Sneinton is a great place to be for that.
Has the move been a long time coming?
On the day I was appointed in 2009, the chairman said, “we have aspirations to make new spaces”, so in that sense, it has been long. Dance4 is one of the last UK dance agencies to branch out in this way. Other cities like London, Birmingham and Newcastle are seen as strategically more important, so the agencies there have been able to make very clear cases for new spaces and tap into national resources. We’ve had a harder fight in Nottingham.
A few years back we had plans for a brand new, purpose built building on Brook Street but then the economy dipped, there was a change in government and all of that shifted the conversation.
This new project actually feels like a much more satisfying solution because we aren’t putting up yet another new building that arguably the city doesn’t need. We’re repurposing an old factory and moving into spaces that have history, spaces that were all about ‘making’. By changing existing spaces, you can take the history with you as well as making new history and new stories for that building and that community. It’s a really exciting prospect.
Will Dance4 occupy the whole building or will you be sharing it?
We’ll have three large dance studios plus our offices, which is about 40% of the overall building. There won’t be other dance spaces – we’ve commandeered all of those. But there are some amazing spaces left that other tenants will be able to tailor.
There are some really gorgeous communal areas including places to eat and an outdoor courtyard. One of the best things is that we overlook King Edward IV park. It’s wonderful to know there’ll be an open space right outside and a community café, too.
How much is the move costing?
It’s costing £2.65 million for the whole move and renovation. All the money is going towards the specialist fit out, flooring and top quality environments for dance. The bulk came via the city council from European sources, we’ve been awarded funding from Arts Council England, and we have been responsible for raising the rest through Trusts, foundations, individual giving and corporate sponsorship.
Our public facing campaign is called Campaign25. It aims to raise £25,000 from 25 different fundraising events so that we can move in our 25th year – there have been all kinds of weird and wonderful things so far. We’re almost there but still have a little way to go so if you can think about a crazy project that will contribute, we want to talk to you.
Did you really dance for 25 hours straight?
I did! In fact the most touched I’ve been throughout the whole campaign is during my 25 hour dance-a-thon when so many local artists joined in. People for whom dance is a really important part of their lives gifted their time, expertise and energy to support me and help us raise money.
What other crazy things have people been doing to raise money?
We’ve had staff members who swam every day for 100 days or ran 5K for 25 days on the trot. One of the team sang 25 karaoke tunes from Now 25 at The Orange Tree and raised several hundred pounds. We’re also finding partners across the city really supportive, I think because they can see we’re ambitious and that we’re determined to make something great for the city.
How will the new building make a difference to Dance4’s work?
We’ve always offered residencies to support both UK and international artists in making new work and part of our uniqueness has been making sure the space is theirs for the duration, which can be anything from one day to eight weeks.
But community has always been an important part of our work too and I’m particularly interested in looking at how dance can support communities in other areas of their lives, like how it can contribute to public health projects for example, or how we can help young people in the city continue to study high quality dance qualifications.
The great thing about having three new spaces is that one of them can be exclusively for artists and in the other two we can do really great work with the community and connect lots of people through dance.
So many dance spaces in the UK are identified for artist use during the day and classes in the evening. But it’s important that artists can come and go. They might be there when we’re there, and when the public are there, which is great. But they might also want to be there at 4 in the morning – and why shouldn’t they be? As long as they respect the neighbours, that’s fine!
Have you already got plans to work with the local community?
We already operate a Centre for Advanced Training – one of nine across the country – that offers professional level training for eleven to eighteen year olds. The scheme allows children to have a typical life – to live at home and to go to their local school – but also gives them access to high quality dance training and qualifications.
In recent years, we’ve been developing a new area of work called ‘Public as Makers’. One of the projects we did back in my first year at Dance4 was called Street Dance where we worked with local residents in St Stephens Road in Sneinton. They created their own dances and an audience was promenaded through the street to watch the households perform. We continue to work with and hear from some of those people to this day, so we’re really aware that dance can have a profound impact on people. Even if those people never see dance again, they’ve experienced something that has hopefully given them a new insight into their life, or their environment, or helped them build relationships with their neighbours and that’s all incredibly worthwhile.
This year we’ve worked with Gabi Reuter who has met, it seems like, hundreds of people in the area, capturing their stories for a work to be shown at Lakeside in 2016.
We’ve got something very exciting planned for Light Night in February and we’re just really excited about our building being more public so we can start to have earlier conversations with local people about what they want to do and see.
How long do you plan to stay in your new digs?
This is a project that I wouldn’t want to undertake again any time soon. We’re incredibly fortunate and I know we’ll love being there and working there. We’re signing a 25-year lease because I think it’s really important we embed ourselves in the community and become part of it. We’re getting those keys and not handing them back. I hope Sneinton is prepared!