Industrial Design and Dance Meet In NobleMotion’s Catapult

NobleMotion dancers in Portal, one of five works that comprise Catapult: Dance meets Design.
NobleMotion dancers in Portal, one of five works that comprise Catapult: Dance meets Design. Photo by Lynn Lane
Imagine a door that becomes a see-saw, and then a table. A 12-foot-tall stone mill, morphing into a Ferris wheel, and a catapult. Or a tunnel that narrows your point of view like a telescope.

And now factor in an entire company of dancers, leaping and swinging, climbing and twisting against these industrial, transformable set pieces, and you’ve got NobleMotion Dance’s Catapult: Dance meets Design, a new evening of dance from husband-and-wife artistic directors and choreographers Andy Noble and Dionne Sparkman Noble.

Catapult can be traced back to 2008, when Andy Noble had an idea for a piece with doors that flipped end over end, but it wasn’t until last summer when one of the couple’s former dancers, Jared Doster, with a dual degree in dance and industrial development and design in his back pocket, returned to Houston that the five pieces on the program really began taking shape.

In particular, Andy Noble attributes the structure built for Ziggurat, which the dancers playfully call the “deathcopter,” to Doster’s perspective as both dancer and structural designer.

“I think with each set piece we’ve taken something familiar that has a mechanical aspect to it, like the doors [in Portal]. Everybody deals with a door. I think a door can have a lot of metaphors to it,” says Andy Noble. “We give [the audience] something they’re familiar with, and then we alter it.”

But creating expectations and breaking them isn’t limited to the set pieces. Dionne Noble was inspired to create by something we’re all quite familiar with in this age of TV and cinematic superheroes.

“I often get ideas for my dances just based on an image,” says Dionne Noble. “We were watching Daredevil and there’s a moment where he’s running from someone or he’s looking for someone and he jumps down into a manhole. He’s just standing in a tunnel and there’s this sheath of light surrounding him and of course he’s being very superhero-esque in that moment, and I said, ‘Oh, that’s what I’m going to make my piece about.’”

click to enlarge NobleMotion dancers in Aorta, one of five works that comprise Catapult: Dance meets Design. - PHOTO BY LYNN LANE
NobleMotion dancers in Aorta, one of five works that comprise Catapult: Dance meets Design.
Photo by Lynn Lane
In Aorta, which utilizes tunnels and cyclical movement, Dionne Noble examines the expectations we put on our heroes, and their support system.

“I think what all the shows are hitting on [is] trying to show the person behind the hero, behind the façade. Well, who is the woman, or the significant other, behind the superhero? Is that person actually stronger than the superhero themselves? Can a superhero survive without a support system?” asks Dionne Noble. “What are we trying to take away from superheroes? We’re always wanting things from them, and when they don’t live up to our expectations how do we feel about that?”

Though it may have been inspired by Matt Murdock’s alter ego, don’t expect the markers of a Marvel production. Andy Noble says that the influence is subtle, adding that to him Aorta is really “about someone who worries a lot. I think that could be any of us trying to be strong in difficult moments in life.”

Echo, which takes its title from Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed, is a big dance, according to Andy Noble, beginning with 25 performers charging down ramps, but it ends quietly, with a duet that embodies the other, less glorious side of war. “You always hear about the war that happens but you don’t hear a lot about the going back and picking up the pieces and what that must be like,” says Andy Noble.

And Last Flight Home is a little different from the other pieces on the program, a work that Andy Noble describes as “more of a theater piece or art installation with some movement in it.” It’s about the process of death, watching someone die and the intertwining feelings of the meaninglessness of life and also the preciousness of it – all against a glass chamber and a large digital clock that starts at 14 minutes and 47 seconds and counts down to the inevitable end.

“It would be very easy to make the pieces mechanical and less human, and I think it’s been fun trying to figure out how to work with a mechanical thing and still have the humanity in there,” says Andy Noble.

“I think music and lighting and the dancers themselves soften the edges throughout, but it is true that these are real structures – there’s steel on stage, there’s a largeness, a grandness to the structures,” adds Dionne Noble. “I think we can only be human against them.”

Performances of Catapult: Dance meets Design are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. August 25 and 26 at The Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For more information, call 713-315-2525 or visit $25 to $35.
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Natalie de la Garza is a contributing writer who adores all things pop culture and longs to know everything there is to know about the Houston arts and culture scene.