Maverick Movers: NobleMotion Dance Unplugs

IMAGE ABOVE: NobleMotion Dance in Unplugged. Photo by Lynn Lane.

Shohei Iwahama and Danielle Gonzaba in NobleMotion Dance's Unplugged. Photo by Lynn Lane.
Shohei Iwahama and Danielle Gonzaba in NobleMotion Dance’s Unplugged.
Photo by Lynn Lane.

Andy Noble and Dionne Sparkman Noble, the masterminds behind NobleMotion Dance, present their latest batch of work, Unplugged, at The Barn on March 6-8. The show features the premiere of Harvest, with a score composed by Musiqa’s Pierre Jalbert, a work which will also be presented at Musiqa’s Time in Motion, March 22 at the Hobby Center. The Nobles took time away from their busy teaching schedule at Sam Houston State University to visit with A + C editor in chief Nancy Wozny to chat about the thrills of toning down the pyrotechnics and the momentum behind their company’s growth.

Arts + Culture TX: I was happy to see you doing an unplugged show. I felt as if your last show was overly plugged. And I say that honestly as someone who  raved over the highly technical work you created with Jeremy Choate and David Deveau. What brought you to this choice, and what does unplugged mean to you? Should we bring our own flashlights?

Dionne Sparkman Noble: No crazy lights in this show—just dancing baby!

Andy Noble: Our dancers have jokingly requested sunglasses for this show since they are accustomed to dancing in the dark.

A + C: I  imagine your auditions taking place in a dark room. So the lights aren’t going to be fancy. Tell us more.

AN: Unplugged is the acoustic version of NobleMotion. We have such a wide range of choreography, and this show allows us to focus on our craft and movement invention without the added elements of technology. We will still have our trademark athleticism, but several of the works are stripped and get very personal. This show has a lot of heart. Our technology evenings are visually stimulating and tend to feel otherworldly. Unplugged is more the side of Dionne and Andy that you might see if we had you over for dinner. But don’t worry, our 2014 Fall show, “Dark Matter”, promises new technology and night vision goggles.

A + C: I hope those are for the audience and not the dancers. Moving on though, you have some fine company to get unplugged with in your collaboration with Musiqa. When I went to your showcase at the Houston Theater District Open House, I ran into Musiqa Artistic Director Anthony Brandt at your show. I had no idea a collaboration was in the works, and that you were on his radar. Besides the fact that Andy and Anthony can both rock a sweater vest, what brings NobleMotion and Musiqa together?

AN: Actually, Musiqa initiated the conversation. They proposed we perform with them this Spring. Once we got to talking, we quickly realized that this collaboration could be really special. So it is a two-year investigation. We are presenting one work together this Spring, one in the Fall and then will share an entire evening in the Spring of 2015. We are really pumped!

Jennifer Mabus, Brittany Thetford and Laine Dornbos in NobleMotion Dance's Unplugged. Photo by Lynn Lane.
Jennifer Mabus, Brittany Thetford and Laine Dornbos
in NobleMotion Dance’s Unplugged.
Photo by Lynn Lane.

A + C: Talk about using original music.

DN: Over the years, we have worked with several composers. Our recent collaboration with the Austin based band My Education certainly falls into that category. The music for this collaboration, however, was selected from a list of eight choices that Musiqa offered to us. Andy and I both listened to the music separately and, oddly enough, both chose Pierre Jalbert’s new String Trio. It was destiny. We have plans for our future evening with Musiqa to collaborate on a new score for NMD.

A + C: Send us into the thick of Harvest, the work that Jalbert created for you.

AN: Harvest looks at social justice in warring countries. Stark, ritualistic, and dramatic, the dance feels of an older time. Throughout the process, Dionne and I drew inspiration from some of the historical masterworks we performed. Harvest is an intense ride.

DN: The movement for Harvest reflects the drama of Jalbert’s score. There is an ever-present structure in the music that is somehow thrown to the wind. Choreographically, this allowed us to weave between movement that is at times restrained and then tossed about, creating urgency and unrest. I am deeply satisfied each time I watch the dance.

A + C: Dionne, sometimes I feel as if your contribution goes unnoticed, and this may just be the territory of being in an artistic partnership with your husband. I loved the duet you did on the showcase, but then in performance it was hidden under too many visual bells and whistles. I saw a distinctly different style in this duet. How do you negotiate sharing the limelight with Andy?

DN: Well, first off, I love sharing the limelight with Andy. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I choreograph with my own cast of dancers at SHSU every semester, as does Andy. When we work with NobleMotion dancers, we are interested in what happens when our artistic choices are knitted together to create something greater than our individual selves. And I tell you it is much more fun that way for me. I think being a choreographer can be lonely.

What we do together is exhilarating. We edit, challenge, argue, and admire each other in every process. It is not about the credit, it is about the work.

NobleMotion Dance in Unplugged. Photo by Lynn Lane.
NobleMotion Dance in Unplugged.
Photo by Lynn Lane.

A + C: What’s this I hear about the two of you dancing together on stage?

DN: Yield is a work that Andy and I have performed a dozen times or more. I suppose you could say it is our signature duet.

A + C: You have a signature duet that I haven’t seen? Heavens!

DN: Last time it was performed, I was pregnant with my daughter Isla, almost three years ago. Knowing that newer NMD audience members haven’t seen it, we decided to take it down off the shelf, dust it off and put it on the program.

AN: Dionne and I fell in love dancing together. So it’s nice to take off the choreographer hat and be a dancer on stage with her again.

A + C: That’s very sweet coming from a man who last sent his dancers pummeling through the airspace in between chest thumps.  I was thinking of you watching the Florida State game against Auburn. I wondered if choreographic ideas where coming your way. I assume you look outside of the usual places for your movement aesthetic.

AN: Go Noles! That football game was amazing. And to answer your question, yes. I am always looking for movement ideas from unusual places. Just to give you an idea, one of our premiers, Carefully Orchestrated Moves to Woo a Mate, was inspired by watching people at a karaoke bar. It is a little on the irreverent side as you can probably tell from the title. Another work in the evening, Dusty Dreams of Monuments, has a section that is inspired by a standoff I witnessed in our back yard between one of our cats and a baby deer. So, you know, standard stuff.

NobleMotion Dance in Unplugged. Photo by Lynn Lane.
NobleMotion Dance in Unplugged.
Photo by Lynn Lane.

A + C: Exactly as I figured. We must watch a game together sometime. But on to more serious stuff, like that fact that NobleMotion has just begun its Houston Arts Alliance incubator program, which means that you must be really (forgive the pun) cooking as an arts org. How has this been a game changer? What are the challenges in that you both live in Huntsville?

DN: The biggest challenge is commuting. At some point that may need to change, but for right now it is working and our family is happy.

AN: We are really gathering some steam. The HAA incubator program has been incredibly helpful. We now have an office with staff and are putting together a really special team of people that will help propel the organization to the next level. Artistically, we are excited that we are creating and offering our dancers more consistent work this year. I can’t wait to see what is next.