The last decade or so has given us amazing expectations of what technology can do for us, both personally with clever phones and tablets etc. and at the cinema and on TV with realistic cgi (computer-generated imagery) popping up all over. And yet it remains that humans still really steal the show and that’s what I took away particularly from Motionhouse’s hi-tech show Broken. The six dancers are the stars and here the technology is a good way off making us agog.
Broken, conceived by company artistic director Kevin Finnan, is about the earth, from the big bang onwards, and latterly Man’s relationship with it. It starts with dust and microbes and then over 70 minutes builds to include Man, his 20th century life and, in an earthquake, reminds us that the earth can still put Man in his place. The set (by Simon Dormon) for this huge telling consists of 2 Chinese (climbing) poles and a screen at the back of the stage where clever video projections (Logela Multimedia) are delivered. Because it’s not a solid screen, but made up of vertically hung flexible strips, the dancers can miraculously walk or dive through it. And they don’t just do this at ground level but can emerge from the wall at the top or the middle, horizontal poles emerging to swing or stand on.
The projected set and the dancers are, I think, ‘run’ separately ie the projections just run regardless of whatever the dancers do. It ends up looking good because the dancers interact at just the right moment to make it look good, though occasionally they are a fraction out (in time or position) and the illusion fails. At some point the stage technology will follow the dancers and sync fully, but until then the odd glitch will show up and I suspect the relatively unsophisticated setup limits the complexity of what can be handled.
The projections themselves, of a very mysterious subterranean world, can be quite impressive; but it’s occasionally inhabited by computer generated beings made up of chunky polygons rather than lifelike cgi you see in the cinema. Their morphing movement can be interesting if you sometimes wonder what is going on and where you are in the evolving world plot.
If the tech didn’t entirely wow and draw me in then the Motionhouse dancers did as strong and agile performers. This is dance infused with circus and their clever physicality pleases no end, also the grace of their movement between the bigger set pieces and their sense of timing in making so much of it work. Only in what seemed to be a love duet did I feel less than convinced – more a performance by numbers than any abandon. But then most of the dramatic dancers I like would have great difficulty jumping blind onto a pole 20ft up in the air.
There was one point where the tech and the dancers all seem to come together into a realistic and scary scene – the earthquake section where a house crumbles away and the dancers climb from the windows onto ledges which also give way. It’s a clever thing as they all try and rescue one another and cling on for dear life. But before long the 70 mins show is up and the audience clap wildly. All up, the tech didn’t really wow me as tech should but bonus marks for the fearless dancers and I made a mental note to see them in Fragile – a work where they dance with JCB diggers. That’s old tech dancing with old tech – which has gotta be good.