Motionhouse dance company is back, promising to push the boundaries of performance further than ever before. What’s On caught up with founder & artistic director Kevin Finnan MBE to find out what audiences can expect from brand-new show Nobody…

Leamington-based company Motionhouse exists to break new ground in the world of dance, its spectacular productions combining circus-dance with digital imagery in ambitious settings. 

For co-founder Kevin Finnan MBE, inspiring as diverse an audience as possible is of the utmost importance: “What we at Motionhouse are focused on is producing work that’s interesting and thought-provoking but also entertaining and engaging. The proof of that is in our outdoor tours. Everybody comes along - including people who wouldn’t usually go to the theatre. And if you can create a show that makes them stand in the street, then you’re on the right track because, for us, it’s always about reaching the widest possible audience.”

Motionhouse was co-founded by Kevin and Executive Director Louise Richards. The pair built up the company by earning money from teaching, and are committed to supporting those pursuing a career in dance and the arts. 

Although it started small, Motionhouse now produces world-class shows which have toured globally, along the way building strong working relationships with numerous Midlands venues. 

“We started a relationship with Birmingham Hippodrome back in 2008, and over the years the theatre has included our outdoor work as part of their programme. In 2012 they were our production partner for The Voyage, which was a huge spectacle in the centre of Birmingham where we built a full-scale ship for the London 2012 Festival, celebrating the Olympic and Paralympic games.

“It was a really exciting thing to do and saw us moving into that level of large-scale outdoor production. The Hippodrome was a fantastic support to us, and that developed into us performing some of our smaller outdoor shows outside the theatre, finally building up to the associate artist programme in 2018 and performing on the main stage.”

Motionhouse also has a longstanding relationship with Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham, collaborating on numerous projects, and with Warwick Arts Centre, considered by the company to be its home venue: “We always want to make connections, and we’re very proud to be associated with these fine venues.”

Although Motionhouse has been flying high for some time, Kevin is quick to point out that, just like everybody else, the company was left grounded by the pandemic: “Frankly, it was a really difficult time. I had young dancers who’d just joined us, and it was like you’re seeing their career go by. I’ve also got dancers from Spain, who were living in Leamington and were locked in their accommodation, in a foreign country, knowing very few people. Motionhouse is a company that tours all year round, and we were on a hectic schedule. Then Covid came along and took it all away.”

The pandemic may have brought to a halt the company’s busy schedule, but the past 18-month period has been vital in terms of Kevin’s brand-new production, Nobody: “I started out to make this show thinking about identity and who we are in the world. When the pandemic hit, I was really focused on this notion that we’d all been talking only to the people around us and to ourselves, because lockdown was quite a lonely time. I re-thought what I wanted to make a show about, and became really interested in the voice in our heads. Everybody talks to themselves, and everybody has a voice in their head, but it was during lockdown that it became clear to me that this is something we all go through.

“So when we were finally able to go back to work, I threw most of my original ideas away and started again. The show is really about the relationship with ourselves, and what the voice in our head means. I’ve created two sets of characters in Nobody. There are the everyday characters - ourselves in the normal world - and then there are the crows, who are the voices in our head.”

Motionhouse’s most ambitious show to date, Nobody will be like nothing the company has ever produced before: “This show is a real use of spectacle, combining dynamic and thrilling dancing with digital film. And we’re engaging with the digital in a different way in performance now, so it’s going to be a really exciting show.”

Interestingly, it’s also the first-ever Motionhouse show to have an interval: “I always generate momentum in our shows, so initially I wasn’t keen on the prospect of an interval. But I’ve suddenly realised that having one allows us to do things we’ve never done before, like changing the environment.

“The break we had over lockdown has given us the chance to rethink and develop something new. We’re coming back on a different level with this show in terms of what we can achieve with the dancing, the circus vocabulary, and the integration with digital.

“What’s thrilling to all of us at Motionhouse is that we really seem to be moving forwards. Every show that we’re bringing out has more people wanting it and more people going to it, and virtually every person that booked us prior to lockdown has kept their booking and pushed it back. So when Nobody comes out, it’s got three full tours to do and loads of European dates because everyone has stayed with us.”

Emerging on the other side of the pandemic, Kevin is keen to ensure that Motionhouse continues to thrive: “Over the last 10 years, the company has been going through a revolution of growing and developing. In the period just before the pandemic, we’d got to a level where there was one Saturday when we did four different shows in four different cities in four different countries, because we’d built the company up to that point.

“We want to get Motionhouse back to the level where we’re running multiple companies and developing global touring, so that we can bring the absolute best to the whole of the UK and beyond.”

Right now, however, Kevin’s primary focus is the current production: “It’s really strange when you’ve spent a lot of time with a show in your head, and then it’s finally there before you, out on the stage. That’s the thing about working on a performance - until you see it, it doesn’t really exist. I’m proud of Nobody, and I’m really looking forward to seeing people’s reactions to it and getting that buzz from the audience. At the moment, it feels like we’re pregnant with it and we’re waiting for that moment when it pops out!”

Motionhouse presents Nobody at Midlands Arts Centre (MAC), Birmingham, Friday 22 - Monday 25 October; Malvern Theatres, Tuesday 2 November; Birmingham Hippodrome, Friday 4 February and Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Wednesday 27 - Sat 30 April