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Power Dynamics Come to Play in NobleMotion Dance’s PowerPlay

Photo by Lynn Lane
Power dynamics take center stage in NobleMotion Dance’s new program, PowerPlay.
It’s been said that “nobody loves the ump,” so it’s no surprise that husband-and-wife artistic directors and choreographers Andy Noble and Dionne Sparkman Noble will utilize the oft-maligned figure – as well as artificial intelligence and gender – to explore the dynamics of power in NobleMotion Dance’s latest program, PowerPlay.

“All three pieces [in PowerPlay] have elements of play inside of them, but all three deal with power,” says Andy Noble. “That’s the real entry point for the whole show.”

The show, which will officially mark the start of NobleMotion Dance’s 15th season, will lead off with Section 6, an immersive A.I. piece four years in the making.

Section 6 originated back in 2019 after the couple finished Prometheus, their first collaboration with Boston-based multimedia artist – and A.I. researcher – Jeremy Stewart. Of course, a pandemic came along and shifted the plan from a full-length evening work to the 25-minute version that audiences will experience this month. But there was an unexpected benefit.

“I think we were more ahead of the curve in 2019 when we started it,” says Andy Noble. “But it’s interesting; by waiting this long, it’s become a more relevant work than before. I think people are much more aware of A.I. – ChatGPT and all of the technologies, and Bard.”

Though the subject of artificial intelligence has only gained more relevance, the Nobles have always been intrigued by technology. With Section 6, however, they approached the topic from a different perspective.

“Like a lot of our technology works, [Prometheus] has a man versus machine or human versus machine concept,” says Andy Noble. “When we do that, it tends to have serious overtones. I wanted to do something that was very tongue-in-cheek, very much a satire.”

To accomplish this, the Nobles again partnered with Stewart, who Andy Noble describes as “not a big fan” of A.I., but who does still use it in his work.
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NobleMotion Dance will explore humanity and artificial intelligence in Section 6.
Photo by Lynn Lane
For Section 6, Stewart projects an A.I.-generated, interactive video design onto the floor. As the audience members arrive for the show, the dancers will select 12 to bring on stage.

“These are audience members that are up for an adventure,” says Andy Noble.

Each audience member is given a “green zone” to stand in, and the dance – which features an Amazon Alexa-type narrator leading the dancers and audience members through the piece – is choreographed around those zones.

“The intention of the piece is to train the audience member to be more human, which is sort of funny in and of itself because the A.I. is trying to teach the audience member to be more human,” explains Andy Noble.

Each of the dance’s five sections focus on an aspect of humanity, such as memory or loss, which is given to the piece’s A.I. (the narrator and the dancers) to try to replicate.

“It’s sort of this step-by-step, oversimplified way to understand humanity, but there’s still something true about it that feels a little uncomfortable,” says Andy Noble.

Following Section 6 on the program is Half-told Stories, a work that Andy Noble says has “quiet political undertones” partially informed by the couple’s work with young people and, specifically, with young women.

“Historically, quite often, the woman’s story has been told by men, from the man’s point of view,” says Andy Noble. “In this moment, we really wanted to tell a woman’s story, so that’s how the concept of Half-told Stories came up.”

The Nobles say Half-told Stories was very much inspired by the four female dancers at the center of the work, and by Dionne Noble who took the lead in creating the 20-minute piece with projection artist and composer Badie Khaleghian.
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NobleMotion Dance opens their 15th season with a new program of dance, PowerPlay.
Photo by Lynn Lane
Khaleghian conducted interviews with each of the four dancers, and from the interviews created the composition, which features the voices of the dancers and bits and pieces of their stories throughout.

Dionne Noble describes the dance as “episodic,” with each dancer having their own section.

“[Khaleghian] created landscapes that each of their stories exists inside of,” says Dionne Noble. “It brings you into a time and place, and we get to zero in on each dancer as we move through.”

The program will close with the evening’s largest work, Sidelined, an approximately 50-minute look at civility over the past five years “and how we treat each other, and how we feel justified in treating people poorly if they disagree with us,” says Andy Noble.

Because of the charged nature of the subject matter, self-professed “huge baseball fan” Andy Noble says the couple decided to make Sidelined accessible by using the sport, and specifically the figure of the umpire, as the entry point.

“I think so much of what I’m seeing in society is everything tailored for specific groups with specific ideologies or specific backgrounds, and actually I’m not that interested in that,” says Andy Noble. “I’m more interested in where we have commonalities, and the umpire really is a great metaphor for allowing everybody to enter into the world and be wherever they’re at, and see some truth in it and how we’re treating each other.”

Though Andy Noble admits to yelling at quite a few umpires over the years, he adds “there’s a line I usually don’t cross, that most people don’t cross.” Still, he notes that since COVID hit, umpires are quitting youth sports at high rates because of the abuse they receive from parents and even from the players themselves. Dionne Noble specifically likens the umpire’s mask to a screen, which can make people more likely to say something that they wouldn’t normally say to someone’s face.

That said, Andy Noble says Sidelined is ultimately “optimistic.”

“A lot of my fondness for the sport are inside of this dance, so the first 15 minutes are pure joy and fun, and then it starts to go absurd and then it gets dark and then it asks some really tough questions,” says Andy Noble.
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NobleMotion Dance kicks off its 15th season with a new program of dance, PowerPlay.
Photo by Lynn Lane
As the Nobles prepare to kick off their 15th season, Andy Noble says the milestone has offered an opportunity to pause amidst the hustle to keep an arts organization alive and be reflective, and a little nostalgic. But it doesn’t take long before their thoughts turn to the next 15 years.

“It’s nice to look back and go, ‘Wow, look at all of the artists that we’ve gotten to work with and look at the creations we’ve gotten to do,’” says Dionne Noble. “[But] there are so many more people to meet, there are so many more ideas out there to cook up with someone.”

Some of those ideas are already in the pipeline. They currently have a working title and a theater booked for next year’s show. They are recent recipients of a Mid-America Arts Alliance grant. And they are very excited about the neuroscience research they’re doing with Dr. Jose Luis (Pepe) Contreras-Vidal and Anthony K. Brandt.

“It’s kind of cool to know that we’ve been able to create an environment where art can happen, and hopefully that’s what we’ll continue to do for another 15 years,” says Dionne Noble.

Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. July 21-22 and July 28-29 and 4 p.m. on July 30 at The MATCH, 3400 Main. For more information, call 713-521-4533 or visit $20-$30.