NobleMotion dancer Evelyn Toh in Fragment. NobleMotion Dance celebrates its 10th anniversary with Vortex on Aug. 24-25 at The Hobby Center’s Zilkha Hall.
Photos by Lynn Lane.
Andy and Dionne Sparkman Noble celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the company NobleMotion Dance with Vortex on Aug. 24-25 at The Hobby Center’s Zilkha Hall. The Nobles visited with A + C editor Nancy Wozny to chat about the show, the future and the joys and challenges of being at the helm of a Texas dance company for a decade.
In thinking about a ten-year celebration, what did you know you needed to have on the program?
Andy Noble: I really want Vortex to showcase our choreographic range. We have some visual “pow” pieces, Unsinkable and Axiom, that feature large interactive sets designed by Jared Doster and Bryan Ealey. Both Drone and Fragment display our love of collaboration and incorporate technology designed by David Deveau. We also have straight dance that offers moments of humor, conflict, and mature love. And as always, dynamo dancers that can rip-roar through the space are a must.
Dionne Sparkman Noble: I will add that we briefly thought about presenting a retrospective but instead felt it was more fitting to develop an evening of new work. Where we are today is very different from where we were ten years ago. So really, our current work is a celebration of everything that has come before. We wouldn’t be able to create the work we are making now without all of the previous experiments, collaborations, and questions that have made up the last ten years.
You mention kinetic patriotism in talking about the world premiere of Unsinkable. What’s kinetic patriotism?
Andy: Well I was waxing a little poetic, but I am referring to how energized we are as a nation during this current political climate. The marching, the political and social engagement, the tough conversations—I don’t think we have seen this since the 60s. The country feels like it’s vibrating. And while it is a very polarizing time, I remain optimistic about our country’s vast potential. I wanted to capture this spirit and energy in Unsinkable. We use the metaphor of a ship in turbulent waters to portray our challenges ahead. And Unsinkable also references our rich history of immigrants as well as the current political rhetoric surrounding immigration.
Technology has been a constant theme in your work, both in production and content. Bring us into the world of Drone.
Andy: Drone creates a dark and unnerving world that looks at our fascination with advancing technology and the dangers, both seen and unseen, that lurk. Since so much of our interpersonal interactions now happen through a screen, we want the audience to watch the live dance through a sheer screen of projected real-time video. And of course, as the title suggests, we have a flying drone on stage that circles the dancers watching their every move. Ironically, the dancers have the difficult task of performing most of the choreography with their eyes closed.
Dionne: Drone was originally inspired by an experience we had at a public pool with our kids. A drone hovered over the pool and sat just out of reach. It was unsettling not knowing who was watching us or their intentions.
What else in the program that should be on the lookout for that’s new and different?
Dionne: This evening has an interesting through line that permeates the work. Several works on the evening ask the question “who is looking” and each examines it from a different perspective—but the quest to understand our consciousness and what is happening in the world, either perceived or real, is very much present.
Andy: I had a sabbatical this spring and got to spend a lot of time playing in the studio. I focused on developing my craft and removing expectations from the process. I think much of the work feels different, but I am curious to hear an audience’s perspective.
NobleMotion has scaled back in the last few years. Can you talk about that decision?
Dionne: I don’t think we have scaled back so much as remodeled and shifted our attention to developing programming that is sustainable and that feeds the overall mission of the company. We have become smarter over the years in the sense that we tried an array of models in the past and are now operating in a way that makes the most sense to us at this point in our lives. Creating a mechanism to invest more time in the work despite our busy schedules was important and we found a magic formula to do just that!
What’s your secret to staying around for a decade and what’s in store for the next decade?
Andy: My secret is simple: I love collaborating with dancers to make something out of nothing. That thrill is what keeps me going. I run a business so I can provide these beautiful artists with opportunities and pay them.
Dionne: I think the secret is not to think about it too much (giggle). But on a more serious note, I think we have made it this far because we have not been afraid to make shifts in the organization to discover new ways of working. To make something work for a long time you have to stop looking to someone else for the answers and actually trust that you can define your own destiny. Maybe that is what the next decade will be about—finding stride and confidence that we can continue to beat the odds.
Andy: As for the future, I imagine will always produce concert dance but I see us evolving into new arenas. We have been talking about making an immersive digital dance for almost 10 years. We are in the process of making this happen next year and I am super pumped. I think it will be very different than anything Houston has seen. We are also interested in making more dance films which is something we have not done with NobleMotion. Another area we are investigating is writing and presenting our research in dance technology. We have been at this for 10 plus years and I think we have some discoveries to share in an academic setting.
Any advice to someone moving to Texas to start a dance company?
Andy: Yes, ask for help! There are so many great resources and organizations that were instrumental in our early success. TALA was a huge help with creating our non-profit business. HAA and TCA were springboards and provided us with early funding opportunities. And service organizations like Dance Source Houston helped us network within our community. On the artistic side, focus on creating one or two really well-crafted works and enter them into local and regional festivals. There are so many fantastic festivals in Texas and they can really help you network and create your brand. Lastly, have thick skin—it can be a tough field sometimes.
Dionne: It’s important to understand what feeds you the most artistically and then fight like hell to make sure that passion doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.