We tend to understand the roles of a director, an actor, a dancer but the role of a theatre/performance designer? In the words of Emma Robinson, ‘designers are a bit more elusive and rarely credited’ having to assert their role in order for the rest of us to understand. Emma, a Design for Performance graduate from Wimbledon College of Art, talks with us about her discipline; past, current and future projects and ambitions and difficulties as a budding designer.

We are overwhelmed by the vehemence and subtle splendour of Emma’s designs propelled by her strong collaborative approach and love of storytelling. Her work beautifully compliments movement, and she possesses the ability to translate design into poetry. It is clear that Emma gravitates more towards dance with the intentions of delving deeper into the genre, becoming a signature style, although the designer states she is ‘not ready to give up theatre just yet!’ This driven artist is in no way ready to stop.

Since being thrown into the unknown, Emma has tackled site specific work, art directed a film, various dance projects, mask making for the Yard Theatre, and the list continues!

Most recently Emma has become resident designer of HAL; a collective of artists from different disciplines such as dance and music. The artists met through previous dance collaborations between WCA and London College of Contemporary Dance, as well as John Ross’ ‘Wolfpack’ production which Emma had designed for.

We are lucky enough to share with you HAL’s creative trailer for ‘Into This Shadow;’ a haunting experimental film merging design and dance following the brief of a recent arts exhibit- ‘Ex Nihilo-Out of Nothing’. The brief, Emma said, really resonated with her in regards to her work ethic. HAL literally made work from nothing within a five hour block, a risk taking experience considering it was the first time that Emma and Matt Lackford [one of the dancers in the collective] had worked one to one. The fearful reality that “whatever was going to be made’ was going to be ‘seen’ added a level of danger. It could be rubbish. I could be good. Either way, it was an experiment to see if it could be done.”

‘Into This Shadow’ consisted of three cameras filming the five hour duration, with the intention that the process of the film would be integrated with the end product. Light play took place, and experimentations with materials which Emma had brought with her to the session; to inspire the potential for movement. Once this basis of experimentation occurred, Matt responded to the swaying motion the artists were creating. The next step within their dialogue was how to capture their exploration on film, which emerged with a unique and carefully considered perspective thanks to Sam McCormick, who is also a dancer, communicating her understanding of movement through the lense. Dialogues with dancers come naturally to Emma; drawn to the fluidity that takes place, with nothing predetermined or scripted. ‘The research and development feels like stepping into the unknown,’ she tells us, ‘and reading their movement, watching them work things out is fascinating.’

Emma very honestly admitted to us that she already had some imagery in mind before the session. She is in love with the Virginia Woolf’s writing in response to light and felt particularly inclined to react to Woolf’s quote, ‘I burn I shiver, out of this sun into this shadow.” However the finished outcome was unknown, despite not going in completely empty minded. It is near impossible to go into a project empty handed in regard to ideas, as ideas are constantly manifesting whether you want them to or not. ‘Into This Shadow’ became instinctive. Film has always been great inspiration for Emma. ‘Strike’ Sergei Eisenstein (1925) is an example, full of playfulness and experimentalism, with the camera work particularly ahead of its time; the limited colour palette of Wes Andersons work is yet another guilty spout of stimulation which seems fairly similar to the palettes used by Merle Hensel Theatre Designer. Hensel’s style encompasses muted tones, conceptual simplicity with filmic qualities, evidently influential to Emma’s practise. Taking on magpie qualities of constantly looking for new inspiration and collecting interests to avoid being stuck with a core set of images or designers, is important. Quite simply, the words ‘clean, blue, black and white, pastel, faded, nature, texture, ethereal, feathers, air;’ are the start of a much longer list which build up Emma’s aesthetic.

We are very excited to seeing the next project which will be combining animation and dance. With keen determination, she is looking forward to the return of making work for herself, as working for designers, despite the indispensible experience, can sometimes cause one’s own process to falter. Emma is looking to rediscover the fine artist within herself, read, paint and experiment, to slow down and search for new ideas.

‘It takes a lot of self discipline to get up and call making your own work your job. There is so much to learn and it takes years to build in this industry. I’m trying to forget about the ‘career’ tag and just focus on the art. The rest should hopefully follow.’

Keep up with Emma’s future projects at www.erobinsondesign.com

Feature by Amber Scarlett / amber@thirstforvision.com


SÝN Magazine

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