Review: Charge. Motionhouse. Nottingham Playhouse

Motionhouse are a dance company renowned for their exciting and daring combination of dance, acrobatics and technology. With Charge, their most recent multimedia production, they fuse these elements seamlessly, whilst exploring the subject of electricity; it’s role in the human body and the wider world. It is a spectacular, breath-taking show which assaults the senses, and leaves the audience gasping at the glorious athleticism, strength and grace of the dancers.

Kevin Finnan, Artistic Director, consulted with academics at Oxford University to understand electrical impulses in the body and their role in our most basic functions. At the same time, he had an image of a city at night, lit up with a million points of shimmering light and saw a correlation with imagery of the human brain, synapses firing. All these ideas are incorporated into a dynamic series of digital projections onto the set and onto the dancers’ bodies. There are big urban landscapes, with traffic pulsing like arteries, and then there are microscopic cells magnified thousands of times to create abstract, organic images. A psychedelic rainbow of colours creates an alien internal landscape, whilst the real world is stripped of all colour, in a mind overloaded by the stresses of everyday life.

The original score, by Tim Dickinson and Sophy Smith, is also a powerful synthesis of classical music, more modern beats and abstract noises, which integrates with all the other elements. Ingenious lighting design by Natasha Chivers includes managing to capture the dancers mid-flight in a split second exposure. Light bulbs descend into the scene, magnetic beams drawing people to their warmth and light, like moths.

But at the beating heart of this piece are the dancers, whose thrilling physicality is astonishing to watch, and impossible to comprehend. They have the usual flexibility and poise one might expect from dancers, but are also hugely robust, often balancing one another by just one hand, or hanging from the rafters. And then they tumble and coil and twist through acrobatics which are spectacular in their own right. The choreography goes on a journey from the rhythmic and contemporary to hypnotic, gentler sequences imagining the beginning of life in the fertilisation of an egg. The intensity with which the dancers maintain their energy levels and precision throughout this one act show is astonishing.

Charge is an extraordinary and unique show, combining imaginative dance with exhilarating feats of physicality, a stunning digital display and enveloping soundtrack. It even allows room for some light relief, using the projections to comic effect. It is a multi-sensory experience, which makes the audience part of its narrative, through their sensate responses, themselves stimulated by programmed, human impulses. It is positively electrifying.

Originally written for Nottingham Post.

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