Huntsville might seem an unlikely base for a contemporary dance company, but choreographers Andy Noble and Dionne Sparkman Noble aren't looking for a safety net. In their mission statement, they say they want to challenge both their own boundaries and those of their dancers and collaborators. On Friday night they accomplished that and more at the Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex with a cutting-edge program of formally sophisticated and socially provocative dances. For us, it's the most exciting dance news of the summer.
The married couple has performed as a duo for more than a decade, assembling a pick-up company at times, and often creating works for other ensembles. Now that both serve on the faculty of Sam Houston State University, they're devoting their attention to their students and NobleMotion Dance.
The eight-member company debuted at Houston's Big Range Dance Festival in June 2009 and is quickly gaining momentum in the area. "The beginning is always nerve-wracking," Andy Noble said after the show on Friday, "but you have to trust yourself at a rudimentary level." It's thrilling that even though the co-artistic directors are dance professors, their work doesn't have that dull, academic flavor seen on so many other campuses.
Noble didn't take the safe route with this program, thankfully, which contained strong language and plenty of adult themes. Perhaps the most stunning dance was Photo Box D, an apparently abstract piece in which light artist Jeremy Choate created a light installation and set of cues prior to the choreography. Choate is well known in Houston as a lighting designer for dance, and he's accomplished impressive museum and gallery work in Los Angeles, New York, Boston and elsewhere. Right now he's working on a five-year installation at the labyrinthine Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. In this unique collaboration with NobleMotion, however, his two artistic worlds collide with fascinating results.
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"I was asked by Andy to reverse the process," Choate explained to Art Attack in the parking lot before the show. "The choreographers who trust me turn their babies over to me. But I had that same empty nest when I turned the light design over to Andy. I gave them the cues and they had to figure out how to choreograph it."
The result is an extraordinarily elegant work in which seemingly naked dancers emerge from behind six large boxes of fluorescent tube lights. Noble explained after the show that their constant appearance and disappearance, for him, recalls the process of memory. Hauntingly dreamlike, it's a work in which any viewer could find some truth. Rather than a linear narrative, the dance is a situation into which you surrender yourself, and it's exhilarating.
Contemporary dance seems the best medium for transforming mundane events into profound truths, and this took us by surprise in Noble's quirky KinkyKool Fan Blowing Hard, during a scene in which Jesus Acosta and Jared Doster fought over a single cigarette. Apparently the dance has been performed elsewhere by a man and a woman, but here it made us almost tearful. At times Noble's work becomes nearly reckless, and Acosta told me after the show that "Andy's aesthetic is to stay grounded, even if the dancing looks dangerous." These are thinking people with complicated lives. Even more satisfying, they know how to transform their experience into provocative and entertaining theater.
Watch for NobleMotion Dance at the Weekend of Contemporary Dance at Miller Outdoor Theater, September 24-25.