Nora is a company like no other: composed of 3 dancers who are joint artistic directors and who commission choreographers to create and put work on them. Or that’s one way they work. Young and fresh they are about to reprise their 2015 ‘Nora Invites Aggiss, Burrows, Fargion and Tanguy’ bill at Sadler’s Wells. 5 questions to two of them about how they came to be and what makes Nora tick – because they should be on your radar…
How did you come to work together (along with Stephanie McMann) and why are you called Nora? How are you funded?
ES: Flora and I started Nora so that we could dance more. We have worked together for years in different ways and realised that we were spending more and more time producing and curating work rather than actually performing it. So we decided to curate work for ourselves to perform. Two birds, one stone. The name Nora is simply a combination of our first names Elea-NOR and Fl-ORA. We needed something simple and open so that we could shape the project freely. Steph was our rehearsal director for our first series of work as Nora. Now we work as a trio and the next project will be with all of us on stage. We have been funded by Arts Council England and our commissioning and producing partners: Sadler’s Wells, DanceEast and SouthEastDance. Last year, we also organised a crowdfunding project to enable our tour.
FWW: Ellie and I first met in 2006 when we moved into a 4 bedroom house – right next to the British Library and a stone’s throw away from London Contemporary Dance School where we studied together for four years. We bonded over culinary disasters, the embarrassment of oversleeps (and ensuing tardiness), contact improvisation jams and our evolving passion for dance and performing. We’ve lived together, travelled together and worked together in various constellations over the last decade. And blink, here we are at the end of our twenties!
We met Steph when she came to study Advanced Dance Studies at London Contemporary Dance School. I remember hearsay that she was a terrific dancer. In 2011 Hiru, a dance organisation that Ellie and I were part of, invited Roberta Jean to showcase her work in The Public House, a pop up home for performance that we fashioned in the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre. Steph performed as part of the duet. That’s the first time I remember seeing her perform. It was like the choreography had a different accent from the ones I was used to encountering. It was captivating and strange. Since she’d moved into rehearsal directing alongside performing she felt like a natural choice as rehearsal director for Nora. Then knowing we wanted to break out of being a duo (something that we’d always imagined happening), asking Steph to join us made sense.
How did you come to choose your first Nora Invites choreographers?
ES: We chose choreographers whose work we loved, who were interesting and lovely people and who we thought would be interest in Nora as a project. They said yes.
FWW: We asked ourselves a set of questions to decide who to work with: 1. Who’s work do we love? 2. Who do we want to work with and be in dialogue with in the studio? 3. Can we imagine these choreographers’ works offsetting one another in an alchemically good way? 4. Do we think this combination of work could enable us to tour a great programme of dance to UK-wide audiences?
Do you ever argue about work and the way forward?
ES: No. I mean, we disagree about things but we are both pathologically allergic to arguing, so we don’t argue. We are very boring and have worked out how to have conversations about all the hard stuff.
FWW: ‘Argue’ is a strong word. And we’re English. No, we don’t argue. Nor do we find ourselves in telepathic harmony. We think differently. There’s room for that; it’s welcome, it’s healthy. Frankly, it’d be boring if we agreed on everything.
For the last 9 months you have been doing some international research into different company models and ways of working. Has it proved interesting? And what are your preliminary conclusions?
ES: It has been super interesting and our conversations have been long and meandering. I am realising that it is good to keep refreshing a process. To ask ourselves over and over why we are creating work as Nora and why I am interested in it and why, or how. other people can be interested. That seems pretty vague, but it can help with everything.
FWW: Bit of a cliché but the research has thrown up more questions than answers. Having the resources to look out beyond my usual reference points for inspiration has been awesome. I have a big appetite for hearing about how other people see it, which is enormously nourishing but also sort of endless, so making more of a practice of tuning into the continuity of my own experience has been key. Also, maybe I’ve learnt to let myself off the hook a bit, letting go of the idea that research needs to be academically rigorous or whatever.
If money were no object at all – say you had £1M – what show(s) would you put on?
ES: I think about this a lot. If I had £1M I wouldn’t put on a show! I would like to buy lots of shut down pubs in the suburbs of London, re-open them and hire some amazing people to make things happen. They would be community centres by day and performance-art pubs by night. That’s the lottery-win dream.
FWW: I would curate an exhibition/show across black box, white box and open air spaces, staging brilliant new and historical feminist work of all different oeuvres.