Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 1:53 p.m.
It’s a U.S.-premiere of global proportions.
What: British dance company noted for routines combining film and live dance performs U.S. premiere of production about the role of water in life
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Phillips Center, 3201 Hull Road
Info: 392-2787, Ticketmaster.com
Motionhouse, a leading U.K. dance company, teams up with Basque filmmakers Logela Multimedia to bring “Scattered” to Gainesville for a first performance of the production in this country on Saturday at the Phillips Center.
“’Scattered” is a dance-film-spectacle, really,” says Motionhouse’s co-founder and artistic director Kevin Finnan, in a phone interview from the United Kingdom last week.
“Along with the large set, the show integrates film, dance, original music and aerial work. And I’m proud to say it’s a great watch that moves at a real clip. A lot of contemporary dance is very abstract,” he notes. “But for me, I’m interested in context, as opposed to just a human form in space.”
In “Scattered,” that context is water. “It’s a dynamic visual poem about our relationship with water,” says Finnan, “on an elemental scale and in the everyday.
“I spent years in Canada, a long time in the Rockies — I’ve seen the glaciers go. But what is fascinating to me is the Western experience that literally, water is on tap — you want a drink, you get one. You want a swim, you jump in the pool. But there’s also a sense of remove. We’re like the fish who swims all day and doesn’t consider,” he laughs.
“So I wanted to explore what’s beautiful, wonderful and terrifying about water. So there’s the rationale behind the content and the form. My purpose in creating dance is to communicate, not just express.”
Key to the communication of that rationale is the production’s massive set — which helps create the illusion of tidal waves, waterfalls and arctic ice floes. Dancers scale up, dive down and balance precariously from a giant curved wall that’s been compared to a skate or snowboarding half–pipe.
With the performance on Saturday, Finnan explains how to make this work in a U.S. premiere from across the pond: “We shipped the set off about seven weeks ago,” he says. “Hopefully it’s arrived at the docks there all right. And from there we have a rental on a 50-foot truck.
“We’re very excited to be bringing ‘Scattered’ to America,” Finnan says. “We passionately believe in our show. We took it to New Zealand, and Sir Richard Taylor (of “Avatar” and “Lord of the Rings” special effects) couldn’t believe how the interaction works. No one can believe we’re not using the most high-tech tricks — that the dancers are really performing everything you see from them. We mix the old and the new, but there’s no substitute for old-fashioned skill in the dancer, and that’s what we do.”
One such Motionhouse dancer is Alasdair Stewart, who provides a performer’s perspective on the elaborate production. “It’s a very physical dance show. It’s very challenging, but that’s also why we really love it. We have a lot of fun performing due to the thrills. It’s exhilarating to dive down the slopes of the set. It’s exhausting, but it’s the thrill that drives us.”
Stewart, with a professional and university-based dance background, began as a child in gymnastics, competing at the national level. He feels his gymnastics background has helped him significantly in “Scattered.”
“The company [members] all come from different backgrounds,” he explains. “But it’s contemporary dance training that unites us. Some of the dancers began with ice staking, others with street and hip hop styles. But for me, the gymnastics really helps me be confident and comfortable with moves when you’re head over heels — to know which way is up.”
Stewart believes “Scattered” provides a particular audience appeal. “We’ve had a great success with it, by far. I think the reason it’s been so successful is that it doesn’t just appeal to dance viewers. People who would go see any sort of theater, people interested in multimedia and video, will all love this.
“And it doesn’t requires any dance knowledge to appreciate or understand it,” he adds. “There are definite characters that emerge, definite notions and narratives, all quite easily read.”
Director Finnan says that launching the U.S. tour is like “coming full circle” for himself, on a personal level.
“I came very late to dance,” he says. “I went to a very unusual college (University College Bretton Hall) set up by an Englishman who’d married an American heiress. Some incredibly famous dancers came here, like Kurt Jooss in the ’20s and ’30s. It was modeled after Black Mountain College in the U.S., and my tutors were American: Barbara Clark, a pioneer of Ideokinesis, and Steve Paxton who created contact improvisation, and that whole Judson Church movement. All of that was still very new here in the U.K. during my studies. So for me, with my initial dance influences being American, this tour is incredibly special.”
Finnan co-created Motionhouse in 1988 with executive director Louise Richards.
“We had an American post-modern-type vision of being explorative, but bringing to that a real European visual theatre notion. We were interested in creating environments and a sense of place.”
Finnan says that Motionhouse, the set designer, composer and filmmakers all work together as true collaborators.
Of his rehearsal process, Finnan says, “We have the set up from the start. The work needs to be for and from that environment, it needs to come from the space.”
For Motionhouse, “the space” ranges from traditional theater work, to large outdoor spectacles aboard a ship, to the London 2012 Paralympic Games, which Finnan choreographed on a cast of more than 3,000.
“It was an extraordinary event to choreograph for a stadium of 7,000 people,” he says. “And a great honor to represent your country. In the pantheon of choreographers, I am a very, very lowly figure, but the number of viewers who’ve watched my work is in the billions.
“And it’s so interesting to learn that the lessons you learn dancing on a stage, with just a few of you, hold steady on any scale, however large.”
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