Terry Grimley previews Motionhouse Dance Theatre’s latest visit to Birmingham.
After completing two decades of creating original contemporary dance in Leamington, Motionhouse Dance Theatre is on a high this summer.
“We’re in our 21st year now and what’s great about it is it’s the most exciting time we’ve ever had,” says Kevin Finnan, joint founder and artistic director with Louise Richards.
“We’re making a major new touring work for middle-scale venues, the small outdoor show Underground is going all over Europe this summer and we have several small-scale events in the pipeline. Yes, we all know the world is going to come falling down around our ears but, at the moment, we’re really enjoying ourselves.”
Underground is a small (25-minute) outdoor show tailored for free festival performances in public spaces, which comes to Cannon Hill Park tomorrow as part of a tour which has already been to Holland and will be taking in Belgium, Ireland and Spain
“There’s a big development now in terms of outdoor events, which is a valuable add-on for the arts,” says Kevin. “They help present cities as centres of culture, bringing more people to the area. The festivals get bigger and bigger and play to more people and so it’s win-win for everyone.”
Underground is a piece for four dancers, performed on a set which is like a carriage on an underground train.
“The whole action takes place on and around this structure and the theme is travelling on trains, the odd characters you meet on the train and also the fear and worry you may have that someone might not be what they seem,” says Kevin.
“All these things are wrapped up in a small outdoor performance with incredible athleticism and energy, in our style.”
The show is partly a response to the 7/7 bombings. Kevin recalls being on the London Underground shortly after the bombings when a man with a rucksack with wires sticking out of it got on: “I thought, ‘am I being silly, or should I get off?’”
But he also says: “I have to be careful how I talk about this, because this is a show that’s suitable for everyone and we have a lot of small kids coming to see it. It’s a show for public spaces and I think that’s different to doing a show in a theatre where the audience have paid their money and entered into a contract with you. So as far as the darker elements are concerned, it’s like a poem, there are allegorical references, but you have to read into them. It has moments of romance and humour.
“Trains are such a part of my life. If I come to Birmingham or go to London, I get on the train. I believe we should reverse the Beeching axe and city centres should have trams and we should use mass high-speed transport. So I was very happy making this piece and I have to say I’m proud of it. It’s a really nice little show, it’s got some great dancing.”
The main house show the company is currently working on in its Leamington studio is Scattered, which will open at Warwick Arts Centre at the beginning of October.
“It’s a piece about water and our relationship with water, and we’re going to create water without it actually being there,” says Kevin.
“It’s got a very big set consisting of a wall that’s eight metres wide and four metres high which is like a half-pipe in BMX riding or snowboarding. We’re working with some Basque film-makers who have a very quirky, surreal vision, so the show is very interactive with film.
“We’re working on that and we’re going off and touring Underground and we come back and do a bit more. Do you know, it’s fantastic to have finally got to this place where you get longer to make your work? We’re having such a great time.
“I do know about the doom and gloom, I’m fully aware our share is coming next year, but until then it’s busy and it’s hard but we’re so pleased to know that we’re doing the work we want to do.”
* Motionhouse presents three performances of Underground at MAC, Cannon Hill Park, tomorrow at 11.30am, 1pm and 3pm. They are part of MAC’s “Site and Sounds” season of free events which continues until August 4. For more, see www.macarts.co.uk. For more on Motionhouse see www.motionhouse.co.uk