Paul Russ interviewed by Creative Quarter

Paul Russ interviewed by Creative Quarter

Nottingham's Creative Quarter interviews Dance4's Artistic Director & Chief Executive, Paul Russ.

As Chief Executive of the successful Dance4 company, who are set to move into the amazing new Creative Hub on Dakeyne Street, and the Chair of the City’s What Next? group, Paul Russ has his finger firmly on the creative pulse of the city. Here we catch up with him to find out a little bit more about him, Dance4’s big move, and what he thinks of the city’s creative sector.

Can you tell us about Dance4 and what your role is there?

Dance4 is a dance development organisation that produces, commissions and supports the research and development of new dance work, enabling artists to enquire into and explore new ideas, and realise their new works. Dance4 also connects that work through presentation, through discourse and through participation to audiences in the community at large. Dance4 is known nationally and internationally as a UK-based agency that is making significant contribution to choreographic development in the UK.

What is your background and what did you do before Dance4?

My background is as a dancer-musician-performer. So a very long time ago in my studies I studied music and dance. And then before I came to Dance4, just prior, I was Head of Development, Head of Performing Arts at the Arts Council, looking after the East region and had various roles there as dance officer and many other things. Before that I had many different jobs working for dance development agencies. I worked in a freelance capacity in dance and performance, and I also, a very long time ago, was a dancer working in commercial settings in the UK and abroad.

How did Dance4 start and why Nottingham?

So Dance4 started back in the early nineties, 1991 to be precise, as a project set up by the Arts Council, independent artists and Leicester City Council and De Montfort University to put an international dance festival on in Leicester. And from that point on there was an energy within the arts funding system to establish and national infrastructure for dance. Dance4 was created and as a result was offered national dance agency status in order to be part of the cog which enabled a new national infrastructure to support dance development emerge.

It wasn’t until 1994 that Dance4 moved from Leicester to Nottingham. There was an opportunity at that point in time for the region to be the host for this new national dance agency and so cities across the region competed. Nottingham won based on the compelling evidence of the critical mass of interest in performance making and actually that it had the capacity to develop partnerships that would sustain long-term investment in dance development activity.

How has Dance4 grown over the years?

Dance4 started off as a relatively small organisation, with one or two members of staff. Over our last 24 years the portfolio for the organisation has increased massively, in large respect thanks to the ambition of artists, and also the ambition of our relationships and partners who seek out opportunities to engage in dance to improve the cultural and artistic offer of a particular locality, audience or a particular organisation or context. And so our organisation has gone from supporting artists who develop new ideas to running international festivals and being the regional host for Big Dance and U.Dance activities. We are now becoming an agency which produces and tours nationally and internationally new work from artists based in the UK and also commissions and presents artists from international contexts and supports their work to tour across the world.

Have there been any hurdles along the way and how have you overcome them?

I think the major hurdles for an organisation like Dance4 are ensuring that not only do we have the expertise but in time we develop the resources and capacity and capability to support each and every stage of an artist’s creation process and a participant’s or an audience’s experience of dance. And so over the years we’ve increasingly ensured that we have range of partnerships and relationships in place to ensure that dance has a contribution to make in lots of different ways. But what we’ve often found challenging is that we’re often asking artists to make and create work in compromised environments and so Dance4 has long held ambitions to develop new spaces and I am pleased to say that in our 25th anniversary year in 2016 we will be moving to new world-class spaces which in the heart of the east-side of the city in the Creative Quarter and renovating, reimagining a creative hub from a factory that has laid dormant for a very long time.

What do you love about your job?

As Artistic Director and Chief Executive what I love about my job is the variety of conversations, relationships, ideas and contexts that I find myself in. So no one day is ever really the same. I get to travel and meet lots of extraordinary people and communities. I get to see some great emerging ideas and established artists across the world. And I get to advocate passionately about the great work the organisation does. I’m able to ensure that dance has a more secure footing in the future by utilising my experience and expertise to connect us to lots of different networks, organisations and partnerships that enable Dance4 and the work that we do to better connect and have a greater impact.

What has been the highlight of my career personally?

I think for me the highlight so far was, of course, securing my position at Dance4. There have been so many things I have been proud of in my time at Dance4 but the moment that really sticks out for me was my very first Nottdance festival and having the opportunity to stand in front of the collective cultural and civic leaders in the city on the opening night to talk about my ambitions for the organisation. To put it out there that we had ambitions to open new spaces and to present New Art Club to them who are an amazing dance company, dance theatre company and present work which I am proud of in a space at the Council House which was the first time we were there and to really make a very bold statement about the future ambitions of Dance4 and I felt incredibly proud at that moment that the organisation was going to grow and achieve greater things.

How excited are you personally and as a company to be moving to a new creative hub on Dakeyne Street? What will it do for Dance4?

I’m massively excited about this pending move for Dance4, partly because it’s after 4 years of being away from that area of the city we get to go back to probably what is the spiritual home of Dance4 in Nottingham which is Hockley and the Creative Quarter and Sneinton. It’s an area that we were based for 15 years and we have a really close affinity to the spaces and the public in that area. It’s also really amazing to be part of a story to reimagine a very old building that is steeped in history but has been forgotten for a little while. And yes it’s wonderful to reimagine that space and bring it back to life with a new purpose for the 21st century. And it’s really exciting to know that we’re cohabitating with lots of really great creative organisations that are going to continue to further develop the relationships we are able to give to artists and the public and make great new dance and choreographic works right in the heart of the Creative Quarter in Sneinton.

What is your favourite place in the Creative Quarter?

I think I’d have to say the Arts Theatre. I think I’m saying that partly because when you walk into that space you sense a kind of pride and passion that the people in and around the space have for it. But also I just think it’s one of those amazing examples of a theatre of a time which clearly is responsible for igniting lots and lots of people’s passion for the arts. And it’s a gorgeous example of a theatre of its time.

One of the other spaces that I absolutely adore in the Creative Quarter is also Emmanuel House. I volunteered there as a student and I think that the work that they have done over the last, gosh, over the last few decades is incredible and certainly was a formative part of my early training.

What are your ambitions for Dance4? Where would you like the company to be in the next 5 to 10 years?

My ambitions for Dance4 are to ensure that actually dance continues to have an important role in the creative and cultural life of a place. And that in a sense Dance4 is able to support artists to create new work and to ensure that actually that work inspires and connects to a community and enables a community to see itself and reflect on itself in a really important and significant way which helps improve the lives and the context of where Dance4 finds itself.

I’d really like Dance4 to continue to make and support the creation of new work, both in the UK and internationally. And I’d also like Dance4 to increasingly develop a specialist role around supporting choreographic practice in the visual art context.

What would you like to see happen to help the creative sector in Nottingham grow?

What I’d really like to see happen is that the sector is able to demonstrate not only its economic impact and value, but also its value on local communities. And I think the most important way of doing so is to ensure that we develop local champions and ambassadors across the city many different guises and in different contexts, and that actually what we do is we spend time ensuring and giving evidence and the messages and the language for those who set policy and are opinion formers in the city understand the value, the intrinsic value, of an arts and cultural and a creative industries sector, not only its economic value but its intrinsic value to the cultural lives of a city.