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Credit: Patrick Baldwin.

Motionhouse’s Dallas Debut Felt Revolutionary

Rating

A-

UK dance theatre company Motionhouse made its local debut at Dallas City Performance Hall on Saturday, and  it was no run-of-the-mill introductory performance. Rather, it was more of a revolutionary act. Throughout history, that’s exactly what dance is capable of being on occasion, but especially at its best. Choreographer Kevin Finnan obviously wants to know how far he can extend the parameters of what defines dance. In the 70-minute production titled Scattered, Finnan takes painstakingly trained bodies, then lifts the restrictions of what said training allows. The audience witnesses a group of artists catapulting head-first into difficult territory, while taking a creatively new approach to their own bodies.

Redefining the early construct of a raked stage—where the back end of the stage is sloped downward towards the audience—Scattered is produced on a 17-foot, custom made, gray slide that doubles as a film projection. It is not dance or even dance theater ( or Tanztheater). Finnan’s work is more like the physical equivalent of abstract expressionism, played out in human form. His personal magnitude becomes part of the technical structure of the piece, as his dancers interpret his every instruction, no matter how extreme. There were no recognizable patterns characteristic of classical ballet or modern dance. Free of those identities, Scattered acts in the tradition of similarly intuitive art movements—by becoming whatever you wish it to be. Watching from the steps, this extraordinarily fresh take on the form and its method of communication left me blown away.

From the program notes—and a Q & A following the performance—we learn that the central theme of Scattered is water. Or more specifically, the interplay of water in our everyday lives. The three basic states of water are projected on the gray slide: solid, liquid, and gas. Dancers interact with cascading water, melting ice, and dry earth. It’s where opposites coexist. Whether a simple geometric form, or the complexity of the human body, nature and its water-dependent cycles take their toll.  The symbolic effect of these processes in the production is mesmerizing, however invisible.

The dancers included four men and three women, all athletic and seemingly up to any onstage task, no matter how physically daunting. They were not implements of emotion in a narrative device as usual, but rather acted as conduits, reflecting and absorbing the various states of water’s energy. The result was overall more visceral than sensitive.

The music acted as a companion to the visuals and kept pace with its counterparts. Scattered had was mostly thematically driven, as opposed to letting the music dictate the proceedings. In one instance, the dancers gurgle water, using the subsequent sounds to inform their movements. These moments were amusing, and displayed a more playful side to Finnan’s direction.

Motionhouse’s unique aesthetic shrouds its intentions, and does not lend itself to a play-by-play recap. But therein lies the company’s greatness, and it seems that Dallas could use this kind of experience.

Image: Promotional image for Scattered.