Kevin Finnan is the Artistic Director of the incomparable Motionhouse, an internationally touring dance circus company that has been pushing movement to its limits since 1988. We were lucky enough to get a couple questions to him as Motionhouse toured their latest innovative piece, Charge, which had a successful run at Gulbenkian. He gave us incites to his own trailblazing career as well a giving a little advice on those hoping to join the world of dance.
What do you do?
I am the joint founder, and Artistic Director, of Motionhouse. I am responsible for the artistic direction of the company – I come up with the ideas for our productions and then work with the creative team and dancers to bring them to life.
What does an average day look like for you?
Every day is different so there’s no average day as such. It could be anything from researching and rehearsing a show to meeting with collaborators to discuss ideas for set, lighting, costumes, music and projections, to travelling to new sites to see if they would work as a place for us to stage new work.
How did you get to where you are today?
A lot of passion, imagination and hard work! I completed a BA Hons Theatre degree from Dartington College of Arts, and later went on to gain a MA in Contemporary Performing Arts from University College Bretton Hall. I set up Motionhouse with Louise Richards, Executive Director, in 1988 and never looked back. We performed and choreographed together for the first few years, but we have since moved away from this. We are both closely involved with the performing company and creative process. Collaboration is a really key part of the way in which I work. I’m proud to have worked with an incredibly talented group of artists including writer A.L. Kennedy, installation artist Rosa Sanchez, film-makers Logela Multimedia, set visionary Simon Dormon and international companies such as Legs On The Wall and Vancouver’s Headlines Theatre.
Did you always plan to go into this way of life?
I came late to dance. I had several different jobs and then went into computing for a few years. I knew I wanted to be an actor so went to Dartington Hall to do a theatre degree. In my first year at Dartington, I had movement classes. I’d had no exposure to dance – before going to Dartington it was completely outside my life experience. I developed a passion for it. It was incredible. I might as well have been on Mars, it was so alien to my entire life experience and yet so wonderful. I came out of Dartington at 29 to start a dance career. My life was changed forever.
What is your proudest achievement in your creative life?
It’s very hard to choose, but I would have to say choreographing the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games. This was a huge honour, and an unforgettable experience. It didn’t come without its challenges, from translating the artistic directors’ vision to working with people with a vast range of physical abilities between the ages of 18 and 80. I feel we were able to create a moving, beautiful spectacle, which the audience had an emotional response to. I’m also very proud of the volunteers for working so hard to realise the vision for the show.
It taught me the whole next level of how you can take an event and do it on a huge scale. It’s about timing, accessibility and keeping a clear vision of what you want to create. The difference is the degree of organisation and the way you structure things. Managing that on a large, commercial scale was very exciting.
What advice would you give to anyone hoping to have a similar career to you?
I’d say that it’s vital to be daring, bold and committed to working together to realise something as an ensemble. If at first you don’t succeed, don’t give up! This is certainly what I’d say to anyone wanting to be part of Motionhouse.
And now Charge, we saw it and fell in love, yet a few of us have found ourselves tongue-tied when we try and explain it. Can you put into words what the experience of Charge is?
Charge is a new piece of dance-circus, inspired by electricity in the human body. I became fascinated by the idea of the human body as an electrical system, and I wanted to find an expressive narrative that would tell the story of our relationship with energy. Ultimately thought is an electrical process, and thus without electrical signals in our brains, there would be no love, no memory, no empathy. And when the electrical activity of our brain ceases, we die. Memories are physical structures in the brain but without electrical energy, they are the dark and silent houses of the blackout. And that is so fundamental. When you turn on a light bulb you don’t think ‘without energy I couldn’t love someone’ but it’s true.
I drew heavily on Professor Frances Ashcroft’s book The Spark of Life for an understanding of the body as an electrically animated system: the scientific journey from Galvani’s experimentation with frogs that demonstrated that muscle contraction is electrically activated, via the discovery that ion channels are responsible for electrical transmission within the human body. I also drew on the understanding of the electrical body in art and culture, particularly in Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein. For me, the highlight of Charge would be the section of the show where we journey from Galvani’s frogs through to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. We are telling the story of our modern comprehension of the human body as an electrically activated system. The company look great and really show what they can do. I am very proud of them.
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