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Nobody

It’s not always the case that the second half of a performance is better than the first. Particularly in contemporary dance. So often, a concept is introduced, tensions established, stakes raised . . . only for the second act to somehow lose its way and fail to make that final twist of the knife. With “Nobody” from Motionhouse, it’s the second half that’s really worth watching; something gets cleared away, and the show focuses in on the performers themselves.

Performance

Motionhouse: “Nobody”

Place

Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, UK, June 7, 2023

Words

Róisín O'Brien

“Nobody” by Motionhouse. Photograph by Dan Tucker

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Created by Artistic Director of Motionhouse Kevin Finnan, the first half of Nobody sees each dancer perform as both crow & human. The crows represent our inner thoughts and our struggles with those thoughts; do we get trapped in by them? Manipulated? The outside world of crowded yet lonely skyscrapers and bustling urban nightlife is evoked through intelligent projections onto simple, angular and easily manipulated structures (the set design comes from Simon Dormon, with digital imagery by Logela Multimedia and AV Design by Barret Hodgson). Heavy imagery of crows and feathers are likewise synched up with the dancers’ placed positions on the stage.\ 

The largest of these structures is a hollow cube with bars the performers can ably swing from and hang on to. Smaller boxes scattered around it become buildings the crows survey the ground below from. It’s quite a busy stage, and what it allows for in terms of fun visuals and props that the cast can play with, doesn’t always make up for the fact that some of the neat group synchronicity is sometimes not shown to its fullest. 

“Nobody” to Motionhouse. Photograph by Dan Tucker

Cut to the second half, and much like Kidd Pivot’s “Betroffenheit, we move to a more abstract, body first environment. Antagonisms are removed; instead, the performers all click and connect together in a calmy capable display of throwing, catching, falling & the eating up of horizontal and vertical space. Compared to the representative first half, depicting isolation and our relationship to the social world, this second half is a sensorial depiction of collectivity. 

The choreography itself is designed to make the most of a big stage and is very direct. As crows, the performers morph through arced, Graham-like movements that signify winged backs that sweep and soar. Heads twitch to get better viewing angles. Each pose the performers move into is always clearly articulated and fully pulled to its maximum point, including luxurious full body back bends that display no outward strain. While acrobatic partnering & grips are here, this is the performance of the soft, smart body, the performance of efficient joint articulations from worlds of perhaps of contemporary floorwork, capoeira, and breaking. Gender is also often smartly irrelevant in terms of who lifts who.

“Nobody” to Motionhouse. Photograph by Dan Tucker

The accompanying soundscape from musical collaborators Tim Dickinson and Sophy Smith follows the narrative action but does not necessarily surprise. The swelling instrumentation moves from intense, glitchy, drone-like sounds to wilting violins & soft piano. Overall, it’s a well-done evening from a company comfortable in what they do.  

“Nobody” to Motionhouse. Photograph by Dan Tucker

Róisín O'Brien


Róisín is a dance artist and writer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. She regularly writes for Springback Magazine, The Skinny and Seeing Dance, and has contributed to The Guardian and Film Stories. She loves being in the studio working on a new choreography with a group of dancers, or talking to brilliant people in the dance world about their projects and opinions. She tries not to spend too much time obsessing over Crystal Pite.

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