NobleMotion Dance Makes a Splash with Man Overboard!

Photo by Lynn Lane

Entering its eleventh season of entertaining audiences in Houston, NobleMotion Dance will present two new works and two favorites in Man Overboard! The company deploys its characteristic blend of technological innovation and rigorous live performance to comment on circumstances that have long afflicted human life, including questions regarding power, control, autonomy, and perseverance.

Through Prometheus, artistic directors Andy and Dionne Noble pilot their most complex collaboration to date, including the contributions of the company’s long-time lighting designer and technology artist David Deveau, sound designer Bryan Ealey, industrial design artist (and former NobleMotion dancer) Jared Doster, and media artist and researcher Jeremy Stewart. Inspired by the eponymous Greek myth, the piece explores the relationship between Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and human movement in live performance. Stewart, a PhD candidate in the Electronic Arts program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, examines the ways in which the A.I. system may interact with human performers, both as a creative force and as an active performer. As part of the process to train the A.I., photographs of the NobleMotion dancers were reconfigured to build a set of around 9,000 images. The visual output at times resembles the human body, but it also often elicits unexpected, inhuman forms. Although humans must train the machines, who has control in the end? Prometheus promises to make you confront your comfort with interactions between human and machine while also proving conceptually and visually entrancing.

I approve this message, the evening’s second premiere, tackles the perceptions of political power cloaked in the aura of the Renaissance era. From a truly divine fourteen-foot throne, one character lords over the cast in this exploration of the extent of the proverbial power of the people. Comedic, and possibly tragic, the piece juxtaposes the era of god-given right of rule with current contentions over democratic governance. Even the staunchest supporters of our most cherished civic responsibility will find themselves challenged to reassess the efficacy of the vote in I approve this message.  

In addition to the two premieres, Man Overboard! marks the return of two critically acclaimed pieces: Tower and Unsinkable. For Tower, Andy Noble joined forces with choreographer Laura Harrell, whose work you may have seen at Barnstorm Dance Fest or The Dance Gallery Festival (TX/NYC). Tower builds on the intensity of thirty-three performers and culminates with rain onstage. In the wake of a storm, performers must find ways to stay afloat, which they attempt in Unsinkable. Featuring the set design of Jared Doster in the abstracted form of three rocking boats, we witness dancers manipulating the massive masts while being thrashed about in order to save themselves and each other. Poignantly, Unsinkable premiered in the season following Hurricane Harvey, and reminds us of the potential for perseverance and camaraderie in the face of unthinkable disaster.

From the Renaissance to the playground of the future, NobleMotion Dance offers an evening of dance theater that invites audiences to consider their power within the contexts of technology and politics, as well as to allow the physicality of the performers to wash over them. Catch the wave of Man Overboard! August 23 and 24 at 7:30pm at The Hobby Center’s Zilkha Hall, and don’t get caught without your life preserver — purchase your tickets online at www.TheHobbyCenter.org or by calling 713.315.2525.

About the Author

Jessica Ray Herzogenrath, PhD, researches U.S. cultural history, in particular popular performances, drawing on her experience performing, choreographing, and teaching dance. She explores how embodied practices simultaneously reveal long-established cultural traditions and hold the potential for immediate change. Her manuscript-in-progress — Modern Folk: Dancing American in the Midwest Metropolis, 1890-1940 — examines how women deployed folk dance in the process of Americanization in Progressive-era Chicago. In 2019, she delved into the archives of dance writer Ann Barzel as the 2018-2019 John S. Aubrey Fellow at the Newberry Library (Chicago). Recently, she joined the faculty of the history department of Texas A&M University as an Instructional Assistant Professor. For more information, visit jessicarayherzogenrath.org.

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  1. Frank Dean says:

    “Inspired by the eponymous Greek myth” – very interesting

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