Motionhouse: Starchitects – Birmingham Hippodrome – 3 February 2023 – 5***** David Gray & Paul Gray

As an appetizer to the main event, young dancers from the Hippodrome Education Network treated us to a one-off curtain raiser – a short dance piece, put together in, considering the high quality of the presentation,  a remarkably brief five sessions of devising and rehearsal period.  This is a busy, complex work, loosely set in some kind of hierarchical, corporate environment where the irrepressible energy of dance breaks through rigid structure and routine.  Characterised by imagination, energy, and a dance language that is immediate, expressive, and accessible, it delivers an uplifting few minutes of youthful exuberance.

Youthfulness was also the watchword for what followed – Starchitects.  Five youngsters gather for a sleepover and let their imaginations run riot.  The set is a pile of cardboard boxes, on, through, and in which the dancers play, creating a fabulous range of imagined scenarios.  The backcloth is a screen on which interactive images are projected and because it is comprised of flexible slats, a porous surface through which the performers can disappear and appear at will.

As always, Motionhouse does not limit itself to the horizontal expanses of the performance space but uses scaffolding to exploit its vertical expanse as well, providing a complete 3D dance experience.

The athleticism, control, and sheer strength displayed by the dancers seem almost superhuman.  But their movements are loose-limbed, playful, and constantly appear to want to break free.  It is a wonderfully effective characterisation of childhood.  And it works within the rigors of what is undeniably some fiendishly difficult choreography, making everything seem spontaneous, fluid, and deceptively effortless.

Because this is a work depicting the power of children’s imagination, everything is possible, and the characters can become anything they want to be.  The central concept of the work is a sci-fi, Jules Verne-style trip to the moon in a cardboard rocket, complete with a brilliantly conceived and executed massive green slinky monster.  However, the flexibility of the imaginative world enables Conceiver and Director, Kevin Finnan, to cleverly blend in some fairy tale elements that would not seem out of place in classical ballet: helpful fairies and a fiery sorcerer king straight out of The Firebird.

At the end of the day, this is a marvelous piece of storytelling.  Larger than life, colourful, packed with invention and energy, and, because of Motionhouse’s athletic and vertiginous dance style, shot through with very real danger.  Judging by the audience’s reaction, Starchitects is an exciting and engaging introduction to the miracle of dance for the younger members of the audience, and a reminder of just how magical it can be for the not-so-young.


Conceived and Directed by – Kevin Finnan

Film projections – Logela multimedia

Music – Tim Dickinson and Sophy Smith

Costumes  –  Sophie Donaldson

Set Design – Simon Dormon

Lighting Design – Andy Hammond

Performers – Berta Contijoch, Chris Knight, Alex De La Bastide, Olly Bell, Dylan Davies

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