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Q&A | Junior Cunningham, Rehearsal Director of Motionhouse

Opening at The Peacock, Motionhouse are bringing their innovative and extraordinary work titled Scattered to the stage. Known for their powerful high-energy physical theatre style, it is a production that boasts both strong imagery and impressive choreography.

I spoke to Junior Cunningham, the rehearsal director of the company about the production.


Tell me about Scattered?

Scattered explores our relationship with water. It was created in 2009 and is the first part of Kevin Finnan’s (Motionhouse Artistic Director) Earth Trilogy. It was followed by Broken (about the Earth) in 2013 and will conclude with Charge (about electricity), premiering in October this year. Scattered takes the audience on a journey from the ice of the North Pole, through oceans and forests and ends at the South Pole, using film projections and an amazing sloping set to create an extraordinary world on stage. It’s our longest running show to date and has been really popular with audiences. When we made the show in 2009, none of us dared hope that we would still be touring it in 2017, returning to venues ‘by popular demand’.


Who does the piece speak to and what is the core message?

All of our work speaks to a wide audience – from dance enthusiasts to people who have never seen dance before. Our style is very athletic, combining elements of circus and acrobatics. It’s very visual and dynamic, with a narrative running through it, so it appeals to different people for different reasons. The relationship between the movement and the projections is visually very rich, meaning that audiences can really immerse themselves in what’s happening on stage, taking them on a journey that fuels their imaginations.  In terms of the message, Kevin has always been interested in the human condition and our relationship with the world around us. With Scattered, he wanted to look at water as a miracle in our everyday lives and the fact that without it, life on Earth could not exist.


Tell me about the rehearsal process and creation, how did you play a part in it?

Kevin is a very collaborative artist and for Scattered, everyone from the set designer, the composer, the filmmaker and the dancers had an input, with Kevin steering the vision and channelling everybody’s creativity. Because of the very physical nature of what we do and the important role played by the set, all of our creative processes and particularly this one started with an enormous sense of play. We all went on a voyage of discovery with the set to create a new movement language that reflected the themes of the production. As Rehearsal Director it’s my job to help Kevin in getting the cast show-ready. In rehearsal, it’s my job to get any dancers who have not yet been on the set to feel comfortable with it and to introduce them to all the things we have learned about being on the set in a safe and proficient way.


What is challenging about the piece?

The physical demands of Scattered are such that only really rehearsing and running the show give you the physical attributes you need to perform it. Coming back to a show that I made 8 years ago, there are lots of things that were easier as a younger man than they are now! Scattered is 70 minutes long, with no interval and we never stop. The choreography is very physically demanding, requiring a lot of strength and stamina. The first time new performers work on the set, the height of the ramp is also something to be overcome.


How is it different to what you’ve previously worked on?

All our shows are very different from each other. Each new theme and new set bring fresh challenges and always present an opportunity to explore and create a new language. I’ve been with the company 14 years and each new show is like a new beginning. And that’s what I love about working with Motionhouse – it’s never the same, it’s always a challenge and it’s always exciting. We’ve just started working on our next theatre show Charge – the final part of the Earth Trilogy that started with Scattered. The theme of the show is energy and the set presents a new opportunity for us to develop a new choreographic language and new skills.


What is it like being in the company?

It’s great to be part of Motionhouse – we are like a fun-filled, hardworking (and sometimes slightly dysfunctional!) family. We spend enormous amounts of time together: we create together, rehearse together and tour together, so it’s important that we all get on well – and we do.  One very positive aspect of this close relationship, and the trust that comes with it, is that we are able to challenge each other, which always benefits the work and leads to positive outcomes and sparks creativity. I love being part of this busy, exciting company that makes such a diverse range of work and tours to so many varied places. In addition to our theatre work, we also tour a repertoire of outdoor productions to festivals and other events and have built a reputation as a ‘go-to’ company for large-scale outdoor events. The next big project we have been commissioned to create is a huge spectacle as part of the Aarhus 2017 European Capital of Culture celebrations which will animate the harbour at Randers in Denmark this September. For that show, we are going to abseil off a 30 metre building, followed by some aerial dancing, so the learning never stops!

What made you want to become a dancer?

I was lacking direction and even heading in the wrong direction when I was a teen and my older sister stepped in and introduced me to dance. I started on a BTEC dance course and I was hooked! It definitely changed my life and eventually led to me getting a dance degree from Northern School of Contemporary Dance.


Tell me about your career journey so far?

When I left college I started off in the commercial world, performing in music videos, but I always wanted to work for two contemporary dance companies – Phoenix Dance Theatre and Motionhouse. So, after a very short spell in the commercial world a Motionhouse audition came along. Off the back of that audition, I was offered an apprenticeship with Motionhouse and after about 6 months I was offered a job. I became Rehearsal Director in 2012, which brought with it new challenges.


Are you excited to be performing at Sadler’s Wells’ The Peacock?

Oh yes! We had a great time and an amazing reception last year when we were there with our show Broken. It’s great to perform at such a prestigious venue in the heart of London, and we love touring to new audiences – that’s the best part of what we do.


Opening at The Peacock, Sadlers Wells on the 26th of April, tickets can be found here.

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