Motionhouse made their first appearance at Dance Celebration in Philadelphia this month. Judging by the response, they already have avid Philly fans. Scattered is the dance netherworld created by British troupe Motionhouse and is a scary meteor shower environ created byway of hi-def video inlays on a curved vertical floor that disappears skyward’ and functions mostly as a dazzling waterslide. Their high concept performance at the Annenberg Center conceived and choreographed by artistic director Kevin Finnan, for their American debut was a mixed bag of movement and hypnotic film effects designed by Logela Multimedia.
The eight dancers enter barely alive on a barren icescape 3-d hi-def projection. Their bodies have no protection against the elements, eventually, not even movement, and they scurry together for warmth, convulse from hypothermia and eventually zombie away.
A remaining couple take refuge on lawn chairs that float by on an iceburg, but then all this debris floats by, the projections get interactive with the dancers- they are inside a fridge, then encased in ice cubes that the dancers bodies melt, before we know it they are hanging off a waterfall very believably.
Then like an extreme sports team the troupe plunges into the water graphics, but more impressive dives the twizzles and pike positions, somersault dives down the waterfall in dizzying configurations. The water theme in fact runs out of steam and drains your patience. The inverted perspective gets clammier when the troupe eventually carrying water bottles as if they are vessels and then drinking and gurgling, it seems like they are up a river without a choreographic paddle.
Then everything dries up and, to this eye,<em> Motionhouse </em>really kicks in. The troupe is scurrying like lizards or insects, on cracked earth desert (with more static, but equally eye-popping projections). Their accordion limb twists and mechanical head moves are in fact full of dance esprit and witty physicality. Finnan starts to release his performers with more yes fluid dance phrases and you forget all of the literalness and just go with them, some now in harnesses scaling the projections.
Soon the surface is burning and the scenario gets very literal again with coils on an electric stove bursting into surreal structures (think Dali) so water and fire make steam so things get very cloudy.
We end up in an iced over, yet swampy swimming pool and dancers dive through and hole and they float around each other. The ending segment kicks into high gear, but again has to rely too much on the slide. A mixed bag of hi-concept overpowering the live performers.
So it comes down to taste, because this Saturday night audience loved these water, fire, air and earthy moves. Also using many essential elements are soundscapers Sophy Smith and Tim Dickinson’s industrial strength cinematic score.