Review Motionhouse Broken – Seismic Performance in a Shifting World by Hannah Goslin

Broken – Seismic Performance in a Shifting World
Hannah Goslin
Broken – When we think of the word broken, we can relate it to many different visions. Broken objects, breaks in aspect of nature, heart break, broken parts of our individual World, things that break these elements and breakages from our own impact.
Motionhouse’s Broken addresses these aspects including many many more. We begin with a pre-human World and almost the beginning of what we know. We travel through time to Earthly breakages as the surface of the World evolves; the impact of humanity discovering beneath the surface through mining excavations and the dangers of this and the heart break that comes with losing someone. This loss turns into hope, in the growth of trees and plants on the surface, penetrating the beneath and then the above atmosphere, with humanity’s discovery. We see cave man life, our struggle with (as the programme says) ‘our own shadows’, conscience and fears, soon landing us to a present day scenario, nature’s response to our modern ways of life and how easily these are broken.
Confronted with a very simple set consisting of two poles and a large screen, already showing an animation of lights and accompanied by a mixture of technological sounds, it seems that we are going to see a production purely based on the dancers’ moves. Oh how we are wrong. This large screen soon continues its animation to accompany the stage performance, showing animations of earthly images, setting scenes for the performance such as a typical house set up for the final scene and throwing us into the deep end at first with an energetic eclectic mix of nature and almost Sci Fi images and sound. The screen doubles up as a way for performers to come on to and away from the stage; implementing staging through the fabric folds for the performers to swing and propel themselves from, including ledges later on in the house scene that can be manoeuvred to different angles, leaving performers hanging from the edges. The inventive fabric screen become malleable yet extremely strong, allowing the performers to pull against and lean through. Simple, yet incredible, the screen becomes a number of different set pieces in one. The poles also bend at the swings of the performers, yet strong enough to carry all 6 of them at once. All of this accompanied by a mixture of cracking and breaking sounds to compliment the images moving on the screen and music, the performers easily adapt their movement without the need for a beat. Smaller additions such as a mattress and one of the ledges are taken away from the screen to project images onto which brought the focus forward, showing a more interesting range of levels.
The performers costumes stay simple yet effective for the timeline. With the use of mostly earthly colours, they bring a modern take on the naturalistic scenes they portray and such like the mattress and ledge, images are easily projected onto the fabric, encouraging the movement and animation to blend. This simplicity makes other aspects stand out, such as the beginning translucent and strong yet flexible ball that a lit up dressed female dancer is inside, contorting themselves and the ball into shapes which seem embryonic. This ‘leitmotif’ for stage recurs throughout as a symbol of hope – a guardian angel for those lost. This beautiful image not only comes from the costume, but the performers angelic and graceful movement.
With three female and three male performers, it’s difficult to differentiate ability. We are used to seeing dancers especially in areas such as ballet, with a clear male and female role. However, evident by the muscular physiques of these performers, all are capable of each other’s roles, supporting one another physically and emotionally and with obvious indicative feelings of trust to one another with falling, swinging and throwing one another around the stage and set. Motionhouse do this very well, with the ‘guardian angel’ characters mentioned before played by the female performers; their flexible and small frames at this point change the status quo of the company, showing the elegance and maternal figures that these characters are portraying. This works extremely well when the ‘miner’ characters try to escape, one too weak to free themselves, and the pain this angel feels with her struggle to help him to freedom. Admittedly, the use of movement, music, darker lighting and the emotion on these two dancers faces are heartbreaking and brought a tear to my eye. Such a true to life piece cannot always have happy endings. The performers showed their obvious hard work and dedication to the piece through their practice – the aforementioned screen showed animations that at times the performers had to know by heart to play with through the folds, such as cracks that moved with their own hands coming out and changes of horizontal poles in order for movement to cross the screen in mid air.
All these elements produced an awe inspiring piece where, looking around, not a single audience member was not encapsulated by. Moments such as the heart breaking moment of the miner not achieving his freedom produced sniffles of tears from others (not just myself) in the audience, audible in between the breaks of sound; the moment where a ledge is thrown down, almost crushing a performer as he swiftly slides out the way evoked a gasp of fear and all of this resulting in a standing ovation at the end. A piece that leaves you not only looking at reality from a different perspective, but inspiring dancers and performers a like to create such thought provoking theatre.

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