The latest offering from the dance-circus company Motionhouse – 30 years old this year – is the third part of a trilogy devised by its artistic director, Kevin Finnan, that melds highly athletic movement with digital projections. The theme of Charge was energy – how electricity shapes our world and powers our bodies and minds; it was created with the input of scientists at the University of Oxford.
Dancers bounced and span like charged particles, or twitched like Galvani’s frogs. There was the obligatory Frankenstein reference; the rush and bustle of a big city; a segment about the electrical impulses of the heart. But we also had parts where the significance of the dance to the theme was a lot less clear: two women standing on black-clad men’s shoulders, so they seemed to hover among dangling lightbulbs, turned into quite a physically demanding balancing routine – but how it fitted in remained elusive. Ditto a segment where the dancers kept gripping their heads – were they demonstrating a collective migraine attack?
The projections were big, and sometimes overwhelmed the dance – trying to make out what the performers were doing through a murk of digital imagery could be tiring. An extended section in which performers wiggled inside aerial silk hammocks, covered with projected imagery of what looked like brain synapses, was just dull. And it only took a dancer being a fraction of a second out when they were supposed to be directly interacting with a projection (opening a cupboard door, for instance) for the magic to be lost. Rubbery set walls allowed for some amusing visual trickery, though, as dancers were “absorbed” into images.
Trapeze and some interesting aerial silk work were incorporated into Charge, but the bulk of the movement involved acrobatics-heavy (sometimes inexplicably aggressive) dance routines across the split-level stage, or hanging from the lighting rig. It was certainly high-powered, but the choreography never really discovered an emotional engagement; the performers charged through routines, or paused to look around delightedly, but nothing really connected. A shame, then, that for all their hard work, Charge never really sparked into life.