Visual Poetry

Photo: Chris Nash
Photo: Chris Nash

For the first time Motionhouse Dance Theatre brings its theatricality and imagery to Dallas with Scattered, part of TITAS season.

Dallas — “It’s like a visual poem about water,” says Motionhouse Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director Kevin Finnan about the concept behind his unique visual production Scattered, currently touring the U.S. for the second time. Finnan says the objective is to try to change the way people think about water and he does this using diverse dancers, projection technology and a 15-and-a-half-foot tall curved floor that functions like a half pipe. “Whenever you work with film there’s always the question of what you’re going to project it on. Our designer came up with this idea of creating a set that looked like it almost wasn’t there and then making it so it curved up almost like a beautiful wave. And this wave of floor rising up became this metaphorical image for the show.”

Finnan and Louise Richards formed Motionhouse in 1988 and over the past 25 years have grown it into one of the leading dance-theatre companies in the U.K. Motionhouse strives to produce works that challenge as well as delight audiences with its fusion of images, action and dynamism. “Dance-theatre is kind of a catch all for any type of dance that is trying to say something—that there is a concept and a theme the piece is working with.” Finnan adds that dance companies in the U.K. have been exploring interactive media for the last seven years, but says Motionhouse sets itself apart because it is not there to show off technology.

Finnan earned his M.A. in Contemporary Performing Arts from University College Bretton Hall and a PhD in Theatre from Warwick University. He has collaborated with many artists from other disciplines, including writer A.L. Kennedy, installation artist Rosa Sanchez, filmmakers Logela Multimedia and set visionary Simon Dormon. In 2012 he was choreographer and movement director for the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

Finnan refers to the company’s work as “art spectacle” because their aim is to reach as many people as possible and really engage them in the work. “We are a very audience-centered company. We try to make work that is accessible and enjoyable for all types of viewers.” Dallas audiences will get to experience this for themselves when Motionhouse makes its Dallas debut April 12-13, 2014 at the Dallas City Performance Hall, presented by TITAS. “We had such a wonderful response to our first tour in Houston that we knew if we came back we had to stop in Dallas.”

Scattered took 13 weeks to complete and involved several creative sessions with the dancers. “When the set first arrived we went in and the dancers just played and explored with the environment for a week. And before that we went into an old warehouse with bits of wood to see what we could slide down, what we couldn’t and how high we could get. Then we built a prototype and had the dancers play on that.” The company’s movement language is mainly contemporary, but Finnan says they also draw from theatre, circus and acrobatics. “We want dancers who at their core are fundamentally good, but then are willing to take on the physical challenges that come with what we do.”

Motionhouse Rehearsal Director Junior Cunningham has been with the company for 11 years and knows just how physical the work is. “The show can be really tough on the body and it’s about being sensible really in terms of fitness and what you eat.”

Cunningham was encouraged to study contemporary dance by his sister when he was 17 years old. He joined the Northern School of Contemporary Dance (Leeds) in 1999 and graduated in 2002 with a BPA (Hons) Degree in Contemporary Dance. He joined Motionhouse as an apprentice in 2002 and became part of the company full-time in 2003. When asked what has encourage him to stay so long with one company Cunningham says it’s the continually changing work and his relationship with Finnan. “Over the years I think we have become good friends as well as good work colleagues.”

Cunningham has been with the Scattered production from the beginning and says that over time he has forgotten what most of the counts are and that he relies mainly on the musical and visual boundaries of the piece. “You don’t even really have time to breathe. You just do it.”

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