Review: Mortal Engine

by Jane

Photo by Julieta Cervantes

On an impossible rake, the dancers’ bodies writhe, their hips seemingly disconnected from their upper body as their spine twists, bending over and out of itself. Bent over, arms creeping out, fingers and hands make awkward spirals as they separate from the body; energy pulses through their legs, flicking and whisking over the air: the uneven distribution of power between lower and upper body has a reptilian quality, dinosaurs have taken the stage.

Mortal Engine is a curious beast, more about the technology than the dancers.  This isn’t to detract from the dancers’ powers, yet I was struck at curtain call how little I recognised any of the performers from the piece I had just seen.  Not only are the dancers curled on themselves and each other, they are often encased by shadow – the bright white surrounding their mass highlighting the crush of a dancer’s body, rather than the individual peculiars.

Innately responding to the dancers’ positions, the lights and shadows bend and play around the dancers: a new dancer itself, a whole new character.  The human dancers are the lead, but the projector builds the image, creates the work on their form.

As pairs dance together they meld into one body: one leg here, one arm there, a head bending over this, limbs no longer belong to an individual, but to a mass of the dance.  Within the projections, within light and dark, spots scuttling across the stage, fluorescent tubes cycling in synchronicity, movement of the dancers is appreciated in the response of the projection, rather than a single entity.

The sound design reverberates through the theatre, the echo of shaking fittings becoming almost as much a part of the soundscape as the booming pulse itself.  Here, too, the sound isn’t content to just be sound pre-designed to which the dancers to keep time.  Here, the sound keeps time to the dancers, intimately playing with the dancers’ bodies and with the projection, building up a work so strong in structure but powerful in spontaneity, in constantly deferral to other elements.

At times, the dancers leave the stage and we are left with lasers and music, playing out their own dance.  This isn’t frustrating, as you perhaps would expect of a dance show with no dancers, rather it highlights the light and sound is as much as an intimate and discrete beast as any of the dancers themselves.

Mortal Engine plays with the physical limits of its dancers, in our understanding of the capabilities of technology. It is a constant play, interface between video, laser, music and dancer.  Constantly building and stripping away on itself, it is simply incredible.

Brisbane Festival 2011 and Queesland Performing Arts Centre present Mortal Engine by Chunky Move.  Director and choreographer Gideon Obarzanek, interactive system designer Frieder Weiss, laser and sound artist Robin Fox, composer Ben Frost, costume designer Paula Levis, lighting designer Damien Cooper, set designers Richard Dinnen and Gideon Obarzanek.  With Kristy Ayre, Sara Black, Amber Haines, Anthony Hamilton, Rennie McDougall and Marnie Palomares.