Broken

Choreography: Kevin Finnan and company

Motionhouse

Peacock Theatre

From 06 April 2016 to 09 April 2016

Review by Rachel Elderkin

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Motionhouse has a reputation for athletic, powerful choreography combining dance with aerial and acrobatic work. Broken, a production created for the theatre rather than the outdoor settings in which the company often performs, is no exception.

Out of the darkness emerges a barely perceptible form: a glowing body within a transparent, inflatable orb. Silhouetted figures dance around this embryonic being, an opening image suggestive of early life. As the backdrop comes alive with digital imagery—a rush of atoms colliding in a visual image of the Big Bang—we begin a journey from the origins of our universe to the fossils and rocks that form the geological construction of our world.

In Broken, Motionhouse has integrated digital imagery and movement to create a work that’s both a visual and physical exploration of our earth. At first, the movement and visual design remain separate, the choreography an abstract reflection of the images on the backdrop.

The company’s strong, lithe movement is adorned with lifts, the women thrown and caught mid-air by their partners. They wind together, leaning upon and spinning off one another's bodies; complex movement performed with suppleness and ease. It’s enjoyable, exciting choreography, but Broken truly comes alive as the digital imagery begins to merge with the movement, immersing its audience in a three-dimensional world.

Alongside the geological story threads that of mankind: from an early, developing lifeform to a human race exploring and excavating the underground depths of the earth, culminating in the vast cities we have constructed around us. As the work progresses through these periods of geological and human development, the company’s aerial and acrobatic skills come into play. Two poles allow them to swing down into the depths of a cave, or clamber high into the treetops as the images on the backdrop soar through the canopy.

Throughout the production, they emerge from and disappear through this backdrop, absorbed into a cave’s dark recesses or bursting through a fiery background, their fluid, athletic motions at one with the digital images of erupting lava.

It’s a work filled with clever ideas and sequences of explosive energy. Tree roots break through the rocky ground, the digital images brought to life as a row of branch-like monkey bars sprout through the backdrop. The dancers throw themselves between these bars, wrapping their bodies around them in a sequence of daring partner work and precarious handstands.

Later, a solo dancer takes on the role of our early cave-dwelling ancestors. As she dances in the light of a small fire, the other performers, dressed in dark body suits, become the shadows flickering across the cave walls. It's a moment of theatrical brilliance as, in turn, their real-life shadows are cast around the auditorium.

Broken ends in a suddenly modern environment. In the bedroom of a house, an intimate duet is danced upon and around a mattress. Yet, despite the advancement of mankind, there remains a fragility to this constructed world. To the sounds of a rumbling earthquake, the company fly through space, leaping off inclining platforms, clinging to the set and each other, as their physical and visual world crumbles around them. It’s a dramatic closing image, an acknowledgment that at any moment our earth can reclaim what we have built.

Visually and choreographically, Broken is a powerful, theatrical spectacle; an intelligent and inventive work of dance theatre.