The Motionhouse dancers' daring movements up and down a giant curved wall thrilled kids and adults alike
Reviewed by Jonelle Seitz, Fri., April 18, 2014
ScatteredBass Concert Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman, UT campus
At home in the UK, Motionhouse, a dance-theatre-cirque company brought in by Texas Performing Arts for a single performance, does themed, outdoor performances involving various apparatuses: heavy-machinery diggers, giant trampolines, aerial silks and bungees, and, for a celebration of the 2012 London Olympics, a life-sized model of an ocean liner. On tour, they travel more lightly. For Scattered, artistic director and choreographer Kevin Finnan and set designer Simon Dormon conceived of a towering curved wall – like a section of a half-pipe – that was a fountain of possibility for variations on a water theme. As seven barefoot, powerhouse dancers scaled and slid down it, scuttled across the top of it, and bound and wrangled in front of it, video projections and lighting rendered the wall a frozen landscape, the inside of a refrigerator, an escalator, a waterfall, and parched earth.
The first time the dancers tossed themselves down the curve – think penguins underwater – the 7-year-old by my side exclaimed in thrill, and the ensuing grappling and diving made me wish I'd also brought my 5-year-old niece, a grappler whose shoes fly off – all the better to climb without – at first sight of any playground slide. To some children, those stairs-up, slide-down rules are made to be broken, and no doubt the Motionhouse dancers were the playground anarchists of their generation. But the physical daring of the wall work, supplemented by brief silk-climbing and bungeed horizontal walking, isn't the only aspect of Scattered that children would love. The show was often imaginative, with plastic water bottles becoming fish puppets, and, when the lights grew hot, the dancers embodying skittish desert animals. If TPA invites Motionhouse to return, the schedule should include a matinee. (The company has a robust education program in the UK.)
This isn't to say that the show is childish, just that it resides somewhere between people-circus, gymnastics, and contemporary dance. I'm not sure whether this means that we can write off the sometimes rudimentary video designs as not aiming for sophistication, but in any case, they were effective. I winced when dancers hung atop the wall, their bodies curled up against representations of melting ice cubes (brrr!). The unbridled power and trampoline-like resilience of the dancers' ups and downs likely gained as much appreciation from grownups, stared down by their own physical limits, as from children. In execution, this was no child's play: The work was a real puffer and joint-killer. At the end, the freeze having returned, the dancers hugged themselves and straggled, as though half-frozen, to the floor. I imagine that the straggling, after all that grappling and bounding, came easily.