Sam Houston State University is currently home to one of the top ranked dance programs in the country. Associate Professors of Dance Dionne Sparkman Noble and Andy Noble co-choreographed a contemporary concert dance that aired on episode five of the ABC drama television series American Crime.
Noble has been on faculty at SHSU since 2008, and Sparkman Noble signed on a semester later in 2009. The two found themselves in dance in remarkably different ways.
“We have very different stories,” Sparkman Noble said. “I was a typical ballet dancer, I took classes starting at the age of five and just stuck with it. I did that my whole life so I think it’s a natural projection for me to end up here.”
Her husband though, wasn’t introduced to the formality of dance until college.
“I was a break dancer a long time ago,” Noble said. “I never had any formal training until college. I was taking theatre classes and thought I’d take a dance class. I decided I really liked it. That’s actually where we [Sparkman Noble] met.”
The two were initially sought out by Academy Award Winner John Ridley, creator of American Crime. Ridley additionally looked at other companies, but the search was unsuccessful due to international visas and schedule conflicts.
“Ridley had looked at another company, but the choreographer was international so getting the visas was very complicated so they began looking more regionally,” Noble said. “My understanding is he was asking around, asking dancers who they would recommend, and our name came up a few times.”
Ridley eventually reached out to Noble and Sparkman Noble to introduce the possibility.
“We just seemed to speak the same language,” Noble said.
After a month of back and forth conversation, Ridley began to seriously consider the SHSU choreographers.
“He contacted us and told us about the project,” Noble said. “He sat down and did a little research on us. He came to our show and we had more conversations, this went on for about a period of a month.”
In an attempt to see the Noble’s work, Ridley drove to Houston to attend a company show by NobleMotion Dance, in which the sold-out performance received a standing ovation.
“At the time, we were told that the showrunner would come out and see our show. I didn’t know what a showrunner was,” Noble said. “I looked it up and found out it was John Ridley; we have an Academy Award Winner sitting in our audience tonight.”
After Noble and Sparkman Noble were hand-selected by Ridley, they collaborated on the dance that would take center stage in the final moments of the episode.
Ridley did not release information regarding the scene that would require the dance. He wanted Noble and Sparkman Noble to be able to work from an original standpoint.
“What we do is an abstract art form, I think if we gave away too much it would become too much of a narrative,” Noble said. “Oddly enough when I look at it now, it really is a narrative of what is going on in the show.”
Noble and Sparkman Noble worked to choreograph a dance that would embody the confusion and broken trust of a community that struggles with relationships.
“A big part of what we were going for was touch, ostracism, relationships, physicality- when it’s good and when it’s not, power struggle, love, acceptance, community,” Noble said.
After weeks of rehearsal and collaboration, Noble and Sparkman Noble traveled to Austin where American Crime is filmed. The crew filmed the dance with an NFL Wire Camera in order to capture the choreography from a 360 degree angle.
The dancers performed the dance nine times in a continuous loop. After each loop, they would reset and run it again.
“It took about two hours to do the actual shoot,” Sparkman Noble said. “We did rehearsals in the theatre space prior to that with the camera. It was two hours, and the dancers had to do it nine times, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it was a lot by the end of it.”
Noble and Sparkman Noble worked tirelessly to illustrate the heavy issue that American Crime carries without the portrayal of a literal story of rape.
Noble and Sparkman Noble were allowed to select their own cast of dancers. Of the 10 dancers, four were SHSU alumni, and one is a current SHSU student, junior dance performance major Timothy Amirault.
“To see Timothy up there, one of their classmates, they all said it felt surreal because to all of a sudden seeing him on the big screen was completely different,” Noble said.
The SHSU Dance Department hosted a view party in honor of the professors, student and alumni that were involved in this monumental achievement.
“We held a private viewing party in the dance theatre,” Noble said. “All of our students came, we invited a few close friends, the dean came and we all watched it together.”
Noble additionally commented on the short time-span that dancers face as professional performers.
“It’s really hard to be an artist, and it’s even harder to be a dancer,” Noble said. “You have a short life as a dancer, your body only works at its optimum for so long.”
Noble and Sparkman Noble see this opportunity as a way to spotlight the excellence that occurs in the studios of SHSU.
“To shine this back on Sam, what we’re doing here, the education that we’re providing and for our students to have more opportunities is what really excites me,” Noble said.