5 Questions to Motionhouse dancer Martina Bussi on Dancin’ with Diggers in Fragile
What was your first thought on being told you’d be dancing with a JCB?
My first thought was, how exciting! One of the reasons I wanted to join Motionhouse was because I like the fact that the company uses unusual performance spaces and explores new ways of working. I think it offers dancers a great range of experiences and opportunities to learn new skills.
It’s always very exciting working with the company because you get to do things dancers wouldn’t normally do. One of these things is working with JCBs in Fragile – this is not the first show that Motionhouse has developed with JCBs, but it’s the first time artistic director Kevin Finnan has introduced large metal structures and more performers. When I was first told I would get to work with the JCBs I was really thrilled, if not a little daunted because of the scale of the machines. Watching the reactions of passers-by as we work on the material on site in the lead-up to the shows, makes you realise just how impressive the interaction is between the performers and the machines – and what a spectacle we are creating.
What’s it like having a mechanical partner compared to a human one?
I never think about it that way – we are very close to our JCB operators and they are incredibly skilled at what they do. They have our lives in their hands, so whenever I do a duet with a digger I always visualise it as a bigger version of my JCB operator, Kev Burrow! That really helps me to have an emotional connection with what is in effect an inanimate object. That being said, when they dance, the three JCBs do come to life, and to me they look a bit like Pterodactyls. They move so gracefully. You have the impression that they are alive.
How did ‘Fragile’ come together – you both creating and learning the moves? Do you ever worry about things going amiss?
First, we do a lot of work without the diggers in order to create the basic language of the piece. We only get to work with the machines onsite about a week before the show. It’s really important that we know our exact movements on the ground before the diggers start to move and interact with us. The diggers move at high speeds and are large and powerful machines, so both the dancers and the operators have to learn where everyone is and look out for each other at all times…this increased level of spatial awareness is an essential element of the final rehearsal period and the performance.
When working with any partner – albeit a much bigger partner – there’s always the possibility that something could go wrong. We practise each dancer-machine interaction with great care and we develop ways of communicating with our JCB operator- in case at any point anything becomes difficult or we suddenly feel unsafe.
There is a moment in Fragile that really makes the audience members hold their breath- three female dancers are lifted on the top of the diggers’ buckets to the full extension of the arm – we’re about 8 metres in the air! It is one of those moves that you can’t think about too much. You just have to do it and reject all thoughts of it potentially being dangerous so you can maintain your confidence and balance throughout – but above all it is an impressive part of the show- and not just for the audience, but for the dancers too as it’s a fantastic experience being lifted that high! We get to see the audience in its entirety, not just the first few rows, but at that moment high up in the air, we make a connection with the people in the back rows too. That’s an amazing experience when you know the work is reaching out to everyone.
How did it go in Glasgow when the show was unveiled – we hear it played to over 12,000 people.
We were a little concerned about the weather as the forecast was not good and there are lots of moves that are challenging, especially on a wet surface. But we were very lucky that it cleared before the first show and we were able to present the work. The audiences in Glasgow were amazing and Fragile appealed to people of all ages. The combination of the diggers and the dancers moving together is extraordinarily moving, so that makes the show special to a lot of people. I think it surprises them too. The young people in the audience are excited to see the diggers up close and personal, and with people on them there’s the added ‘wow’ factor! I guess the diggers are like big ‘Transformers’ in their eyes. It’s great, that Fragile appeals to such a diverse crowd – there really is something for everyone.
As a company, we feel honoured that Merchant City Festival in Glasgow and Gulbenkian in Canterbury invited Motionhouse to create the new work for their festival goers. To bring dance to audiences who would not normally go and see the art form is something we are very proud of. In Glasgow, Fragile brought people together, and even when it started raining, they stayed.
What next for you and Motionhouse?
We are taking Fragile to Canterbury – to be performed at the bOing! 2015 International Family Festival at the end of August. Then we are taking our theatre show, Broken, to Cyprus in September for a week, so we are all very excited about that – Broken is a great show to be in, as the audience reactions are always fantastic. Broken is back in theatres around the UK from next January for its fourth UK tour – we’re returning to many theatres it’s already performed in. This is testament to the show’s success. I’m really proud to be part of the team that created Broken with Kevin.
We have quite a few more festival appearances of our outdoor shows coming up, including several performances of our new duet, Lost, at Birmingham Weekender on the 27th September.
Looking further into the future, we’ll also be creating our next theatre show for 2017. We’re all very eager to start work on it – for Kevin and all the dancers, it’s always great to have the chance to develop new work!