Motionhouse – Nobody
04 February 2022
Reviewer – David Gray & Paul Gray
Motionhouse’s commitment to the community was represented by a short curtain-raiser devised and performed by local school students. This provided an imaginative fusion between street and contemporary dance performed with energy and commitment. The future of contemporary dance in Birmingham and the Midlands is in safe hands with these talented young people and the superb educational partnership between Motionhouse and Birmingham Hippodrome.
Indeed, Motionhouse has been in existence for 35 years and what was to follow in their main presentation, Nobody, place the company & Birmingham Hippodrome at the very forefront of excellence and innovation in national and international contemporary dance.
Nobody is a piece whose development was interrupted by the pandemic and rightly reflects the experiences, pain, sacrifices and suffering during this time of global adversity.
Immersive projection is integral to the piece, with dancers interacting throughout with astonishing projected images moving around them, on them and seemingly through them. The performers alternate between human characters and stunning depictions of crows; crows acting as metaphorical voices in human heads. The characterizations of crows – in cunning costume design – was disarmingly realistic; these are dancers who can really act as well as dance, and they totally inhabit their characters, be they human or menacingly ornithological.
Initially the mood is boisterous, but then sours, turning to anger and anxiety as the piece explores themes of internal struggle and disintegration though a series of beautiful pas de deux and complex ensemble pieces. The remarkable performers present a fearless – and sometimes death-defying – agility & physicality, this combined with an exquisite lyricism, beauty of poetic line & total egalitarianism. Indeed, the three young female dancers are equally happy to catch, chuck, throw & spin their male opposites as far and as high – often spectacularly far and high – as they are themselves. The ensemble work in this piece is truly outstanding and quite literally breathtaking.
In the first act the choreography explores the structural potential of the dancers’ bodies as they combine in the kind of architectural shapes of cityscapes projected around them, interacting with one another through the architectural objects on the stage so that, at times, it becomes difficult to differentiate human and non-human elements of the forms being created. This powerfully conveys the sense of people struggling to maintain their individual integrity, and perhaps their very humanity & sanity. Very timely.
The focal point of the set is a massive, skeletal metal cuboid serving a variety of functions: a projection screen when covered with a form of elasticated and doggedly indestructible cloth; a climbing frame over which the dancers frolic; a barrier imprisoning those within it and separating those without. At one point it is rocked around the stage by the performers. Here dance becomes sheer engineering as bodies lift the cuboid, shift around on it, and hang off it, the constantly changing weight differentials maintaining a precarious equipoise. Occasionally this vast cuboid is tilted diagonally upright on one of its corners and slowly rotated with dancers perilously clinging on and off it. The observer cannot fail to be riveted by the skill, danger, and beauty of this intensely complex spectacle.
In the second act the formal nature of the choreography becomes less architectural, and more painterly, in a rather Renaissance meets Baroque kind of way, with a superb musical score in which cool, architectonic minimalism gives way to indulgent expressive harmonies of (mock) J S Bach. Quite magical.
One thought: the actual volume of the recorded music at these points could perhaps do with some adjustment by the sound engineers. Everything was played very loud throughout the performance. For example, in the exquisite, gentle & contrasting moments of pas de deux, a gentler approach to speaker volume might have been a wiser decision; less is often more. Just a thought.
Overall the mood of the second act is altogether lighter, the images more transient, dissolving as soon as they form. Energy ebbs and flows constantly. Dancers seem to fly as they are thrown around the space. The metal frame becomes a series of physical challenges which they must overcome together, moving as one.
Ultimately, this is a profoundly uplifting work. Beyond the astonishing skill of the dancers, the brilliance of the choreography, the stunning imagination of the production with its remarkable immersive visuals, and the expressive power of the multifaceted musical score, it has at its heart a message of hope: that we can overcome our internal struggles and find strength in our common shared humanity. Nobody delivers that message in powerful and haunting images that lodge in the mind forever. Truly Breathtaking.
Artistic Director – Kevin Finnan
Executive Director – Louise Richards
Rehearsal Director – Junior Cunningham
Dancers – Olly Bell, Berta Contijoch, Chris Knight, Daniel Masserella, Beth Pattinson, Shannon Kate Platt, Joel Pradas Reguill, Nana Appiah, Llewelyn Brown. Alex De La Bastide, Rikkai Scott, Arron Watkinson
Set Designer – Simon Dorman
Musical Score – Tim Dickinson & Sophy Smith
Digital Imagery – Logela Multimedia
AV Design – Barret Hodgson
Lighting Designer – Natash Chivers
Costume Designer – Sophie Donaldson
Mask Maker – Kitty Power