Dallas — In 2009, the Houston dance scene received an electrifying punch with the premiere of NobleMotion Dance at the city’s Big Range Dance Festival. Critic Neil Ellis Orts hails that they are “delightful, stunning, beautiful” and “a name to watch.” Nancy Wozny, longtime dance critic and editor of Arts + Culture Texas, praised them in her 2010 year-end review, saying, “NobleMotion emerged as the company to gush about.”
Founded by Andy Noble and his wife Dionne Sparkman Noble, both on faculty at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, the company thrives on collaborations, technology and physicality. NMD ventures to North Texas for the first time for the second annual Dallas DanceFest, but the artistic directors are no strangers to Big D. Dionne has performed here, and Andy recently set a work on dancers at Booker T. Washington, which will also be performed at DDF. We talked with Andy about his roots, the current success of the company, and future collaborations.
TheaterJones: How did you become interested in choreography?
Andy Noble: Well, I started breakdancing when I was 8, but I didn’t take a formal dance class until I was 19. I completed my undergraduate degree at University of South Florida, where I met my wife, but I obviously had a lot of catching up to do. The professors there saw something in me and were very encouraging. My ballet teacher, Gretchen W. Warren, author of the book Classical Ballet Technique, said, “You know, I think you’re going to make it as a choreographer; I think that’s where you should focus your attention.” So, they saw that I was creative from the beginning, and I thought that’s something I was going to do sooner than I actually did.
I landed a couple of professional jobs and wound up having an eight-year career as a professional dancer, doing amazing work. Most of my time was with Salt Lake City’s Repertory Dance Theatre, one of the oldest modern rep companies in the world. I danced all the classics by Martha Graham, Ted Shawn, Jose Limon, Merce Cunningham and others, and more recent rep by Chunky Move, David Parsons, and Shapiro and Smith. I learned so much from these masters and knew that was what I ultimately wanted to do.
How did NMD form?
Dionne and I always wanted to have a non-profit dance company and a set group of dancers, but it wasn’t until we got jobs at SHSU in 2008 that we felt like we could settle in. Up until then, we had just been doing a pick-up company. The first year, we got a couple of offers to set some works and decided to call ourselves NobleMotion Dance. It took off from there, we got a couple of good reviews, some more opportunities, and it just exploded.
The company has reached a level of achievement much quicker than most new groups. To what do you attribute your rapid success?
We started our company as mature choreographers, so I feel like the work we started putting out immediately was not us figuring out who we are as artists. A lot of the time, the growing that happens for choreographers is time spent figuring out their voices out. Even though it took Dionne and me a while to start a company, we had made over 50 works, so we were pretty established voices. The maturation process happened somewhere else, and we had put in our time, it’s just that audiences around here didn’t see that. Another element is that we really like to see dancers move, aggressively, physically, and that attracts audiences.
I also have a background in theater, as both my parents were playwrights, so I grew up understanding the different elements of character, plot, and spectacle. I think we use spectacle to create worlds into which the audience can enter, and with character and plot, we’re giving the audience something to hang their hats on so they understand what it is you’re trying to say. There’s a level of accessibility to our work but it’s not so accessible that it’s candy-coated. We like to think a lot about converting people to become dance audience members, instead of making dance for dancers. We try to make dance for regular folks, whether it’s a football-loving dad or a stay-at-home mom.
What influences from your training and background do you bring to the company?
I bring in some of my background in breakdancing and taekwondo. My wife is more ballet trained. Early on, I was influenced by choreographers such as Doug Varone, Zvi Gotheiner and Chunky Move out of Australia. They use technology a lot.
How did you get interested in dance technology?
I struggled with the fact that dance is an ephemeral art form. I had seen a couple of dance for camera works, and it made a lot of sense to me, because it becomes timeless. My wife and I both got MFAs with an emphasis in dance technology. We were drawn to film, but it wasn’t till we had to translate that into live performance that we started to bring projection design and interactive technology into the performance. I’ve actually come full circle. I like the ephemeral nature, that dance happens in the moment, so I appreciate both sides now.
What do you look for in a dancer?
I’m not interested in just a dancer, I’m interested in a creative artist. We work very collaboratively; in fact I often refer to my dancers as collaborators. There are some dances where they help me make up some of the movement and others where I create it all. But even when I come up with all the movement, I like to give them a lot of liberty to interpret the choreography in their own way. I like for them get in and solve problems. Working with technology is challenging, and if they’re smart and good creators they can figure out problems inside the moment that really help propel the work at a much faster pace than if you have to hold someone's hand every step of the way. I want physical beasts, and I like using that word for dancers. Are they a tiger on stage? I like diversity. Every dancer of mine is really unique, everyone has a thing they do that’s really special.
What work are you bringing for DDF?
We’re bringing a fun little dance, it’s short, only about 5 minutes, called A Motorcycle for Moses. We just premiered it in April, and it’s really a dance I made for the dancers. We were doing some heavier work, and that show had a lot of unison, which we normally don’t do. I felt like in order to create a fun environment for us creatively, I needed to have something fun, to let the dancers be themselves some more, to be special on stage.
What future collaborations are you considering or working on?
I’m always looking for new things to challenge myself. Right now we’re working on a set with designer Liz Freese. I’ve always wanted an interactive set, so it’s something we’ll use in a future show. Starting choreography with set design is something I’ve never done.
Our April show is called L’Dor Vador, which is Hebrew for “from generation to generation.” I’m culturally very connected to my family. My grandparents were Holocaust refugees from Germany, and both were well-recognized poets. The Jewish Community Center in Houston is presenting us, and the show contains the work of three generations of artists. My mom is writing a one-act play that weaves the poetry of my grandparents together. They have really interesting stories, so it’s about their lives really, and I get to collaborate with my grandparents in a way. It’s very different from our current show, which is a huge spectacle. This one is a much more intimate evening, more delicate.
» The second Dallas DanceFest is Sept. 4-6. Performances will take place on Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m. with the 2015 Dance Council Honors awards ceremony and performance showcase occurring on Sunday afternoon.
» For a full list of this year’s DDF participants, including biographies, plus profiles, reviews and more, see our special section devoted to the DanceFest.
» To read a bigger feature about the event, go here.
» Tickets for both events are available through TICKETDFW: online at www.TICKETDFW.com, by phone 214-871-5000, or in person at the box office 2353 Flora St., Dallas, TX 75201. For more information, go to www.dallasdancefest.org/