It's impossible to pigeonhole the work of innovative Midlands group Motionhouse. Marion McMullen discovers how their 25th anniversary will see them go bigger...and international.
“IT’S taken 25 years to become an overnight success,” laughs Kevin Finnan.
The likeable artistic director and co-founder of Midlands dance theatre company Motionhouse has a reputation for producing the unusual - like a machine dance for JCB diggers and dancers.
He relishes creating extraordinary dance spectacles and has worked with top artists from all over the world including writer A L Kennedy, installation artist Rosa Sanchez, film-makers Logela Multimedia, set visionary Simon Dormon and international companies such as Australia’s Legs On The Wall from Sydney, and Headlines Theatre in Vancouver Canada.
But now he’s abut to tackle the biggest challenge of his career with The Voyage.
It is the curtain raiser of the London 2012 Festival in the West Midlands and takes the form of a grand-scale outdoor performance event which will see a full-scale passenger liner built in front of Birmingham Town Hall.
The free event, which premieres on June 21 and runs until June 24, is a collaboration with Legs On The Wall and is Motionhouse’s biggest ever outdoor performance.
The work’s taken two years to create and puts the Leamington-based group on the global map.
“It’s a mad time, but it’s great,” says Kevin. “It’s just non-stop at the moment and I’m not getting any sleep. This is taking a big chunk of my time ... and all the other projects.”
It’s certainly a busy time for Kevin. He is also choreographer and director of movement for the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games, is planning Motionhouse’s 25th anniversary next year and has tours to America, Asia and Europe planned.
“I’ll also have to find time for a new work next year as well,” muses Kevin, who is also a visiting Fellow at Warwick University and Associate Artist of Greenwich+Docklands International Festival.
Kevin uses elements of theatre, circus, acrobatics and film in his work and Motionhouse productions have toured theatres and festivals.
But The Voyage takes Motionhouse to another level. “The scale is ambitious, the ship is huge and it is going to be big.
“It will be an iconic statement with this huge liner in the middle of the city. We wanted to make something that will live on in people’s memories.
“People have travelled from Birmingham to all over the world and The Voyage is a journey of hope.”
He adds: “I think 2012 is a defining year for Motionhouse and I don’t think you can look at it in any other way.
“With our first tours to China and the USA being in place and doing the biggest project to date with The Voyage, it’s a watershed moment for the company, for Louise Richards and for myself.
“It’s something that as a company we have consistently worked for and, in a lifetime of creating work, you have to acknowledge moments when it is fantastic and has gone your way. They are wonderful gifts and it is just marvellous.”
But no matter how big Motionhouse become Kevin and fellow co-founder Louise have no plans of ever leaving their Midlands base.
“This is where our roots are,” explains Kevin. “We can branch out and go all over the world, but our roots will always be here.”
Dancers on board
* Junior Cunningham - Joined Motionhouse as an apprentice in 2002 and is now the longest serving performer. He was first encouraged by his sister Chantele Harvey to dance when he was 17.
Trained with Marion Thraves and Bernard Pierre-Louis in the Midlands and studied with Northern School of Contemporary Dance (Leeds). Has also worked commercially in Switzerland and Paris and is rehearsal director for The Voyage.
“I’d never had any lessons but I regarded myself as a street dancer and I used to enjoy dancing very much.
“My older sister and I used to put on shows for my mum and her friends. My first ever dance class was when I went to an intermediate jazz class which I hated and vowed never to go to a formal dance class again.
“But then I left school and had no real idea of what I was going to do. My older sister stepped in and offered to help me find a course at college that I would find interesting that was away from friends I was getting in to trouble with and she got me an interview on a BTEC dance course in Walsall. I went along, interviewed, auditioned and got in.
“The Voyage gives me a real sense of pride. We will join forces with aerialists, choirs, brass bands musicians and more than 140 community performers for the event in Victoria Square.”
* Rebecca Williams: The newest recruit. Completed her vocational training at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in 2010.
“We’re focused on The Voyage and then the summer tour of our festival pieces Cascade and Underground, which I’ve learnt in the last couple of weeks,” she says.
“Then after that we’re going off to China and USA to tour which will be my premiere of Scattered so it’s a really exciting time.”
* Alasdair Stewart: Company’s resident gymnast. Competed in national championships from the age of nine and began his dance training at Barton Peveril College. Graduated from London Contemporary Dance School.
“At the moment we are in the midst of rehearsals of The Voyage and the word that I would use is ‘epic.’
“This is an opportunity to use a wide range of skills and the fact that it is for the opening of the London 2012 Festival means that it will probably be the biggest show I ever do in my life.”
* Claire Benson: Graduated in 2001 from the London Studio Centre and worked with Gelede Dance, Retina Dance Company, Freshmess and X Factor Dance Company.
“The Voyage is an amazing, one-off opportunity to be a part of something that is so global, but it hasn’t really hit me yet. I’ve never really danced in such a big company and it is a very different experience to being one of around four performers on stage to being in an ensemble of hundreds.
“I know the show is going to be huge and it’s really, really exciting.”
* The Voyage by Motionhouse runs from June 21-24 and is a free event in front of Birmingham Town Hall.