My name is Matthew Robinson, and I have been Artistic Director of VERVE since 2016. My role has many elements, all of which have been affected by the Covid-19 Pandemic. I am lucky to be part of an institution that focuses on solutions, and through listening, co-operation, ambition and imagination we have (so far) managed to navigate through a successful performance season, together.
After the year prior, where so much was lost we needed to rebuild our confidence and ambition. To believe that we could make things happen, but also to recognise that we can let go, be agile and adapt. Together we have built and then rebuilt a schedule to allow work to happen, to nourish the dancers and support them in their individual development. Together we have worked with perseverance. My responsibility is to inspire us to make things happen, to sustain hope, drive forward when glimmers of possibility arise, or create them when they don’t.
This year I have been joined by a group of dancers, on the search to grow, develop and expand their horizons. These artists have looked for the opportunity in each change we have managed, they have been patient, kind, generous, recognising the huge efforts behind the scenes by the team to make things happen. I am so proud of what they have achieved, and what they continue to achieve. It has taken bravery and persistence to meet the challenges this year has offered, ambition and generosity of spirit.
(Dancers Ed Mitchell & Meghan Stevens in 'Private Little Films' by Barnaby Booth)
Our tour was re-imagined into what we are now terming ‘LIVE’. With a focus on live performance, the plan takes the company on the road, performing to live audiences in closed and open theatre events, and to guest theatres who are live streaming our work online. The programme expands our home performance schedule to seven performances, and for the first time beams our exceptional dancers direct to homes all over the world via our ambitious digital streaming programme direct from our Riley Theatre. Alongside performances we continue to reach out, delivering a digital and in-person participation programme unpacking our work and inspiring the next generation of young dancers. We continue to evolve our social media presence and this year have used time to create video vignettes of each dancer, allowing the world to meet the special people I spend each day with.
Agility, perseverance, and a belief in the transformative power of dance has propelled our team through multiple plans, past many hurdles to achieve what we have so far. That is not to say it has been easy, through it we have been reminded that letting go is the beginning of seeing new possibilities, but also that letting go is hard and creates fear to commit again. My role has been to help us find the possibilities, to say yes to the next idea after the one before has evaporated. Together we have supported each other to look forward.
(Dancer Max Revell in 'Love to destroy' by Matthew Robinson)
The dancers and I test at least twice a week, around performances up to six times a week. We are lucky to all live in close proximity to NSCD, allowing us to sustain a bubble through this period. The year has asked the dancers and I to act responsibly to safeguard each other and their experience. The bubble at times has been intense, spending over a month in one studio together. But what I feel, see and experience is a group of people who have developed a deep respect, understanding and love for each other, and this translates into what you experience on stage and online as an audience. Their ambition for the future has only been fuelled and supported further by the trust and support that has evolved in the room.
Making work in this period has also created its own challenges, with my creative process moving from a solid five week block of time to shifting small pockets of time over five months. Interestingly, and at times frustratingly this only increased my ambition for this work. Together I feel we have poured attention, care and passion into ‘Love to destroy’. I feel it holds aspects of us all, the feelings of us all. It translates a moment in time, expressing emotions, desires, fears, and dreams. Restrictions meant my collaboration with music producer Torben Lars Sylvest was all at distance, throwing ideas back and forth over the phone, zoom and email. But it has been such a fulfilling collaboration, no ego, just a search for the best ideas. Torben is awesome, and his music is thrilling, bold and sensitive. I hope it is the first of many more collaborations for us.
When all the pieces get thrown in the air we can get stuck in mourning what is lost and put ourselves in a holding pattern to wait for a return to ‘normal’. Or we can enjoy the new picture the pieces create, reorganise, and create something beautiful. Going into the future I hope this year will fuel ambitious agility in the dancers, and that the model we have created this year will serve as a reminder that we CAN, despite the odds, create differently excellent opportunities, performances and participation activity.
VERVE is the postgraduate company of Northern School of Contemporary Dance. Find out more