The Motion Ensemble

Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company has moved into a new home – now their focus shifts to UK City of Culture

The building is an unusual one in some respects. It is four-storey, with its main entrance on Derry~Londonderry's Waterloo Street. But it’s probably better described as two two-storey buildings, one on top of the other.

The top two floors emerge out of the city walls – a red-brick box, with a red front door, and red bricks filling the windows on what is effectively the ground floor. It is the new home of Echo Echo Dance Theatre company – Waterloo House, Magazine Street. From the outside, it is plain, functional, square, dark, cold and easily missed. From the inside, it isn’t.

Once through the doors, the place transforms. The rooms are open, light and spacious, with high ceilings and wide windows offering broad views over the west of the city and beyond. Old industrial pillars create nooks and corners and spaces.

This building is more than just the new premises for the company. It is their warm, new home, and a curious mix of business and domestic permeates every room. It feels like somebody’s house. There’s a dining table on which sits a toilet roll waiting to be put away. In the kitchen, someone has remembered the fish food but forgotten the milk.

Echo Echo

 

There are sofas and easy chairs, and toys on the floor. But the dining table can quickly become a conference table, and the internal windows allow views of a busy, untidy office and either one of the two specially designed studio theatres. This is not a 9 to 5 building – the staff here work from home.

Echo Echo was founded in 1991 by Steve Batts and Ursula Laeubli, who sadly died in 2011. They moved into the new building a couple of months ago, ending a search that had lasted over 20 years. Originating in Holland, the company worked mainly in Germany and Eastern Europe at first.

A 1997 performance at the Playhouse in Derry~Londonderry led to a period as company-in-residence. That was followed by a stay at the Waterside Theatre, after which there came a move to premises in Bishop Street, which had good offices, but no decent performance space.

If the new building is deceptive, then that is entirely appropriate. The company itself is not what you think it is from the outside, and is perhaps best defined – if that is possible – by confounded expectations. A core project of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, and institutionally well-supported, Echo Echo is outside the mainstream of contemporary dance.

Involved in community work with all ages, they are not a community project organisation, and there is no distinction between the company’s own work and their work in education and participation. Work with people is only done within the company’s artistic and creative aspirations, which are at once strict and fluid.

Founder Steve Batts is still leads the company as artistic director. 'Mainstream contemporary dance is concerned with the young, the athletic, the body,' he says. 'We are concerned with people moving, rather than bodies moving. Our work is concerned with control and understanding of people’s movement and what it might communicate.'

A recent installation piece, The Cove, took place on a beach in Donegal and began with living in and exploring the area – climbing, walking, camping. The movement that emerged was rooted in that experience. It grew organically and intuitively, but that growth was mediated through extreme discipline in movement.

'There was no model of what was to come out,' recalls Steve Batts. As with all Echo Echo’s work, it was informed by 'permissiveness, intuition, simplicity, compassion, and natural creativity'.

Their new home is key to the company’s growth – logistically, financially, creatively. They are autonomous and independent, no longer restricted by someone else’s name above the door, or someone else’s space in which to work.

'We have a curatorial responsibility for the space,' adds Batts. 'We present an open door, not a closed door. What you find is unusual and surprising. We are creating an environment by surrounding it with a texture that is resonant.'

The curation is concerned as much with the creative imagination as with the physical space. Much of Echo Echo’s energy has been focussed on the move recently. Now they are ready to burst into Derry~Londonderry’s City of Culture year with three exciting projects.

The first is The Motion Ensemble, a three-week improvisational project beginning on July 30. A mix of local, national, and international dancers and musicians will produce 18 one-hour performances of compositions made on the day of production, at 18 venues across the city.

Those venues include  Guildhall Square, the Peace Bridge, the City Factory and St Columb’s Park. In addition, there will be five-minute shows spontaneously combusting in shops and cafes. View The Motion Ensemble map for more information.

Without opens on August 31 and involves 500 people – children and adults, amateurs and professionals. A studio in Waterloo House will house seven screens, which will show choreographed performances from seven different places on the city walls, filmed from a point on the tower of St Columb’s Cathedral.

Then, filmed from each of those seven locations on the walls, seven more performances from locations beyond the city will be screened. Directed by long-term Echo Echo collaborator, Rosemary Lee, Without is described by Batts as 'expansive, generous and outward-looking, filmed in places of history but not directly about that history'.

Echo Echo’s third major project for City of Culture is their Dance and Movement Festival, which takes place in venues across Derry~Londonderry from November 8 – 17. Joining Echo Echo will be companies and dancers from Germany, Moldova and around Ireland, as well as performers from Derry~Londonderry.

These three projects represent a statement of creative intent from Echo Echo as it continues its mission to confound expectations in an exploration of the grammar of movement, made all the more potent by finally living in a home of their own.

Visit the Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company website for more information.