They have gone from a tiny homespun dance company to one that is recognised around the world.
They've performed in America, China and across Europe – but Motionhouse has also brought its brand of magic to everywhere from a beach (complete with JCB diggers) and a prison to supermarkets, hospitals, a train station platform and aircraft hangar.
Not to mention the Paralympics opening ceremony last year, choreographed by Motionhouse’s founder Kevin Finnan.
Now the Warwickshire company is celebrating its 25th anniversary and Kevin being honoured with an MBE.
He gives a surprising answer when asked when he realised Motionhouse was a success. What was the turning point, the moment he believed he could make a living from his passion?
I expect him to name a time fairly early on in the company’s history, but instead he says: “It was last year.”
“That’s when I finally thought ‘You know what, this might be working!’. I guess I’ve always been a hard man to convince.
“You live on a tightrope, always just breaking even, steadfastly touring and plugging away. Then last year I finally lifted my head up, looked around and realised we were a success.”
That’s somewhat of an understatement, as 2012 was a great year for Motionhouse. They put on their biggest show, The Voyage, to 15,000 people in Birmingham on a full-scale ocean liner built outside the Town Hall.
Then Kevin went straight from that to organising 3,000 volunteers, most with no dance experience, for the Paralympics.
It’s a far cry from starting out in Leamington Spa with his girlfriend Louise Richards. They've since married and had two children.
“It is an extraordinary journey,” remembers Kevin, aged 56.
“Louise and I met when I moved to the region to join a company called New Midlands Dance, and we decided to set up on our own.
“We had an ancient Volvo estate with a trailer, into which we would load the set. We worked with two musicians and together we’d chug up and down the motorway, playing small venues. Our aim has always been to touch audiences with our sheer physicality.
“We were surviving on one of Margaret Thatcher’s Enterprise Allowances, supplemented by teaching work.
“We did everything technical ourselves, so one of us would be dancing a solo while the other one ran off to change the lights.
“We rehearsed in the local church hall. We’ve always been based in Leamington – at first we considered going to London, but we want to be different.
“Leamington was quite sleepy then but it’s grown too and allowed us to build our company on our terms, with loyal local support. We've got a warehouse now, which we couldn't afford in London.
“It seemed an odd choice at the beginning but it has become the best choice.”
Motionhouse is firmly rooted in dance but also draws on elements of theatre, circus, acrobatics and film with its dynamic productions, acclaimed for their striking use of imagery.
The show Scattered, first performed four years ago, has been especially successful, travelling 41,200 miles around the world. It’s based around the theme of water, with dancers working with aerial harnesses and bungees so they hang suspended over ice, swim underwater or hurl themselves into tidal waves.
That takes place in a theatre but Motionhouse got close to real water when they performed on the beach at Watergate Bay in Newquay, Cornwall. Dancers attached to the arms of three JCB diggers flew through the air, in a 2004 show.
“We had to do the show and get them off before everyone was washed away by the tide,” remembers Kevin.
Then there was the challenge of performing at HMP Dovegate in Staffordshire.
“The show was made of scaffolding and ladders, and every piece had to go through security checks.
“One of our most memorable performances was when we took Scattered to a Romanian festival, under the Carpathian mountains in Dracula country. We were in an incredible old theatre that was absolutely packed, with people standing in the aisles. They all went completely mad, I’ll never forget it.
“Last year was an extraordinary rollercoaster. The Voyage in Birmingham was a massive project, the biggest moment of my career – until I got the phone call asking me to choreograph the Paralympics opening ceremony.
“Any sane person would have said no, but it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. We finished The Voyage on the Sunday and on Monday morning I was in London working on the Paralympics.
“It was on such a colossal scale, choreographing 3,000 people in huge film studios. There were 500 people jumping up and down in one room and 400 in another.
“Danny Boyle was working down the corridor. His Olympic opening ceremony was so fantastic, it did add to the pressure on us.
“We didn't have his resources, we were never going to get the Queen and James Bond, but we had Sir Ian McKellen and Stephen Hawking, so that’s not so shabby. And our vision was actually very different. I’m incredibly proud of it.
“On the night, in that huge packed stadium, you could sense that everyone was praying we didn't stuff it up. As soon as our Big Bang effect went off and the audience realised it wasn't going to be embarrassing, they started cheering. It was like being at a rock concert. We were utterly elated.”
Looking back on 25 years, Kevin says: “It’s been a long, slow and painstaking climb. There was a period in the middle where we fell out of favour, we just weren’t as popular, and we went right back to the beginning. Then all of a sudden, things just exploded. Now we’re rattling along like a Wild West wagon, it’s very exciting.
“One weekend we’re performing at Tamworth skate park, the next in front of 18,000 people in Marseille.
“And we still only use six dancers. We did have seven, but had to reduce because of funding cutbacks. We just can’t afford to employ more, though we like to bring in more people to perform with us, like in The Voyage, whenever we can.”
Motionhouse certainly has a busy summer ahead.
Tomorrow they’re on home ground, performing Captive outside in Leamington’s Jephson Gardens, then again on Sunday they’re working with local businesses to help attract visitors to Leamington town centre. For the Independents Day event, they’ll be performing Captive on the Parade.
It’s the start of a summer of outdoor performances for the production, with venues including Pooley Country Park and Kingsbury Water Park in Warwickshire and Sandwell Arts Festival.
Captive combines the idea of ‘extraordinary rendition’ for human prisoners with that of caged animals.
“I was struck by the image of prisoners in orange jumpsuits, which reminded me of tigers. I thought that’s what it must be like for them too, to be suddenly snatched – one minute they’re walking through the jungle, the next they’re in London Zoo.
“It’s an emotional and poetic piece, which we attack with incredible dynamism.”
Then there’s another new show, Broken, which has an underground theme and premieres at Warwick Arts Centre on October 2 before embarking on a UK tour.
Performing outside means Motionhouse is at the mercy of the elements, and the first night of The Voyage had to be cancelled because of heavy rain.
“People had come up from London to see it and it absolutely broke out hearts to have to cancel.
“Whenever possible, we will carry on, but if it’s not safe then we can’t do it. I remember getting a round of applause in France after getting on my hands and knees to dry the street with paper towels.
“I’ll always muck in, and I still do dance a bit. I’m so passionate about dance, but then I was a very late starter.”
Kevin had a good career as a computer analyst with Volkswagen when, at 25, he decided to give it up to take a theatre degree.
“This was in the early 80s when computing was booming, so everyone thought I was mad.
“I followed my heart rather than my head and it could have been an utter disaster. My poor old mum was beside herself. Unfortunately she didn’t live to see my recent success, she’d have been so proud.”
Kevin and Louise’s 17-year-old son Leon is following in their footsteps by studying with Birmingham Ormiston Academy for performing arts. He was an aerial performer in The Voyage and wants to act. Their 15-year-old daughter Neave is interested in studying history.
“I was actually hoping for two dentists in the family!” jokes Kevin, who adds of his MBE in this year’s birthday honours: “It was a total surprise, you could have knocked me down with a feather.
“It was all very secret service. They sent me a letter which asked if I wanted to accept the honour. I was to reply, but it said ‘You will not hear from us again and you must tell no-one’. “It’s a great honour, but perceptive people congratulate me and then say ‘When is Louise getting hers?’. She should be knighted!
“She’s the company, really. She’s the one who has built it up. It’s nice that people talk to me and I get an MBE, but actually it’s all her.”
* For details of where to see Motionhouse, go to www.motionhouse.co.uk .