Motionhouse in Charge: electrifying dance circus

Birmingham Hippodrome
March 13, 2018

Phil Preece

Groundbreaking dance company from Leamington Spa, Motionhouse, are currently celebrating their thirtieth anniversary as touring artists. Their blended brand of highly physical dance theatre, circus skills and digital age technology packs a visceral punch, to say the least. Breathtaking and at times heart-stoppingly daring, and Charge embodies their performance philosophy to the nth degree.

But I’m always a bit wary of any piece where if you haven’t read the programme notes you’re at a loss. Here you needed to know that Motionhouse artistic director Kevin Finnan worked with Oxford academics for this new production that explores the idea of humans as electrical machines where signals “whizz along your nerve fibres and brain cells, controlling all your thoughts and actions” (Professor Dame Frances Ashcroft). The Achilles’ heel of this concept is that it appears too scientific; humanity is more than a mechanistic collection of electrical impulses. The notes continue “…all sensation involves ion channels. They are the spark of life.” In dance terms this is a very long way from the world that made L’après- midi d’un faune. This is sports technology.

Motionhouse in ChargePhoto Dan Tucker
Motionhouse in Charge
Photo Dan Tucker

In practice, though, it’s powerfully energetic stuff using Motionhouse’s trademark brinkmanship to the utmost and needing the most exact precision to avoid disaster, which the excellent cast do again and again. Despite the high-powered nature of the dancers’ performances, no one appeared in the least fatigued by the extreme level of demand on their skills in even in so long a piece. But perhaps this is in a sense also an issue in that slick does not always sit easily with art.

Interestingly, even from this enthusiastic audience, the final applause was muted although, and despite the rigours of the work, the dancers still seemed replete with energy. Perhaps like me, everyone was simply worn out, entranced by the inventiveness but also fatigued. Perhaps a third eye would have been a good idea, the need for someone to say that less is more, especially when so many ideas are available.

Overall this was a marvellously innovative evening, though, packed with high octane performances throughout; and people think the Olympics are demanding! And if Charge seemed at times rather over-charged, it was beautifully executed, generating its own kind of theatrical electricity.

In London, Charge is on at the Peacock Theatre from March 21-24. Visit for tickets and details.