Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Singing the Body Electric


Motionhouse , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , January-31-18
Charge by Motionhouse The touring season opens and a company of the calibre of Motionhouse is a fine start. Theatr y Gwerin is a good-sized auditorium and there is a waiting list for tickets. Little is said about audience, or the nature of audience, but theatre is nothing if not fellowship. Not only is the place packed but the make-up of those brought together is ecumenical. The age range spans six or seven decades. In an era of marketing segmentation that is good.

“Charge” is gripping, inventive and coursed through with visual and callisthenic brilliance. Its genre is dance blended into multimedia and circus but in duration it is an equivalent to Thomas Pynchon in the novel. Caroline Finn delivers honed fifteen minutes pieces. The seventy-five minutes of “Charge” would be better cut by a third. When Lindsay Crouse pointed to the skills of her then husband David Mamet she said “he's a very fine cutter. He knows what to cut and where.” But to be fair Pynchon has his army of enthusiasts.

That proviso made, “Charge” is electrifying. Electricity is its motif and inspiration. Motionhouse's six dancers represent it in every dimension from the microscopic to the macroscopic. They dance and move before a giant screen and an ever mutating flow of images. The imagery is the work of Karlos Gomez and Imanol Garaizabal of Logela Multimedia. The score covers the span of electronic possibility from clicks and belches to lyrically long passages with occasional hints of Philip Glass. It is the work of Sophy Smith and Tim Dickinson.

“Charge” has a unique provenance. Company founder Kevin Finnan approached Frances Ashcroft of Oxford University. She is a professor of physiology and the study of her team are the proteins of the ion channel. “Charge” opens with the dancers representing in metaphor the fundamental building block of life. Their jerks and spasms are the jump of electrons across the synaptic gap. At a much larger level they become a sperm cluster seeking connection to make organic life. Here as elsewhere there is a witty aspect of the design of Simon Dorman. In a trompe l'oeil effect a performer merges with the digital image.

The themes expand to reference to Galvani. Bolts of power are reminder of the film imagery of the most famous fictional making of life. By coincidence January 2018 is also 200th anniversary of first publication for Mary Shelley. The scenes open up to show the humming connected city that now need never sleep and never close. New York City consumes more power than the continent of Africa.

The electrical flow releases us from the diurnal rhythm. Insomnia like loneliness is a modern scourge. Night shift workers are sicker than workers by day. High up on the set a night-time disco flashes its strobe lights but the other side of power-enabled metropolitan life also features. Solitary figures inhabit their tight urban homes. The range of meanings that "Charge" covers is huge.

The credits for “Charge” are many. Apart from lottery and arts council Motionhouse is supported by Warwick Arts Centre, Rothschild Foundation, Ernest Cook Trust, TippingPoint Stories of Change. Louise Richards and Kevin Finnan are celebrating 30 years of Motionhouse in 2018. Companies in the public domain should all be obliged to publish their numbers. In 2017 80,000 people saw their performances or took part in its participatory activities.

“Charge” leaves one melancholy thought in its wake. Motionhouse's nearest equivalent in Cardiff would have been Earthfall. Historians will in time arrive to write on the cultural life of Wales in the first part of the century. The list of companies who were doing good work and were culled at their peak will make unhappy reading.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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