Sparking with energy: Motionhouse in Charge

Peacock Theatre, London
March 21, 2018

David Mead

Kevin Finnan’s Charge explores both the word and its underlying meaning to the hilt with a company that could just as well danced under the banner of Powerhouse as Motionhouse. Every single member of the company charges at their work at full tilt creating a potent experience that fizzes, pops and crackles with energy, literally and metaphorically.

Working in conjunction with Professor Frances Ashcroft, Finnan explores the fundamental role that electricity plays in the human body and in human society. The dancers, suspended on circus tissue, become a pulsing heart, just as much powered by electricity as Natasha Chiver’s stunning lighting design.

The tissue, overlaid with light projections, suddenly transmogrifies into axons and neurons sparking as they fire. Electricity lights up reproduction housing, whole cities. Danger is everywhere: electricity can kill as well as give life and mortality literally hangs in the balance as dancers fling themselves off the tissues or jump down from height, seamlessly integrating into the dance at stage level. One false move and they would be splatted or go flying off into the auditorium or so it seems.

Motionhouse in ChargePhoto Dan Tucker
Motionhouse in Charge
Photo Dan Tucker

The metaphorical electricity of human attraction becomes a cycle of life for all of which electricity is fundamental. The narrative is not always logical or clear but the pace never lapses and, although it was a tad long and perhaps repetitive, there is never a dull moment.

Partnering is expertly timed creating a fluidity and natural variation in pace that must have taken many hours of rehearsal to perfect. The sense of ensemble is palpable with each performer requiring absolute trust from each other to avoid disaster. Although circus skills are integrated, dancers, in addition, must always create the illusion of ease and constancy and no one misses a beat. As well as the expected lifts and supported turns, dancers are flung into the air like gymnasts but all without benefit of springboard.

There are several levels and a ledge on the set but they actually seem to meld with the projections so that dancers often seem to launch themselves into the air from nothing or hang suspended in ether.

The 19th-century saw science and arts split, seemingly fundamentally, with the formal education system mirroring the divide. Collaborations such as this and those that Mark Baldwin instituted at Rambert with works such as Constant Motion and the marvellous work of the Wellcome Trust are a salve that is healing the false breach and proving that there is no such thing as STEM subjects that exclude the arts.

As Finnan and Motionhouse prove, science is just a pretty and exciting as art and vice-versa. If Motionhouse had not been funded for the previous 30 years and drawn on a trained, experienced workforce, then both science and society would have been the poorer. Let us hope that, thanks to electricity, people may still be able to read these words in 30 years’ time and wonder why the two ever separated.