Charge: Motionhouse

My first trip to The Storyhouse in Chester, a massive arts complex that opened in 2017, was on Tuesday this week (see my thoughts on the venue at the end of the review).  It was to see Charge, a dance/circus piece inspired by electricity in the human body from Leamington Spa-based company Motionhouse. Conceived and choreographed by artistic director Kevin Finnan and performed by a cast of six, this is a thrilling and electrifying (sorry) exploration of both the central theme and the physical capabilities of its performers.

Each sequence within the show connects clearly with the central theme, none more so than the section that sees white coat-clad dancers posing in plié a la seconde, mirroring the frogs that were victims of early electricity experiments. This gives way to a sequence of breathtaking acrobatics using white silks, which builds and pulses to Sophy Smith and Tim Dickinson’s fantastic score.

Logela Multimedia’s stunning projection design integrates with the choreography, rather than just being a backdrop, and clarifies the connection with science – we see a maze of neon blue nerves, a beating red heart and time lapse videos of cities at night.

So many contemporary dance pieces are homogenous, but in Charge there’s contrast to maintain freshness. One minute the ensemble are running, leaping and throwing each other round the stage, flowing like an electric current; the next, there’s a magical duet between two of the female dancers, who move tentatively around each other, standing upright on the shoulders of other performers. Light bulbs suspended from the ceiling illuminate them from the waist up, so that they appear to be floating across the darkened stage.

There’s a risk that a piece like this – contemporary dance, inspired by a scientific subject matter – can become overly serious, but Charge has more than a hint of playfulness about it. The projection design combines with a fabric backdrop to allow for some clever tricks – real toast pops out of a digital toaster, a performer acting as a sperm dives into a projected egg, and at one point the whole cast travel ‘through’ an animated vessel and pop out at the other side of the stage.

Charge is a stunning showcase of the skills of its performers, who hang from the lighting rig and jump off each other’s shoulders with ease. It’s a seamless blend of dance and circus, of performer and projection design, and of science and art – and thanks to its pace and variety, it kept me gripped and open-mouthed right until the end.

A note on the venue: The Storyhouse is wonderful. A huge repurposed art deco cinema full of open plan space and white walls, it’s unmistakeably modern – a large screen that displays video clips and images of their forthcoming programme dominates the ground floor foyer, while restaurant The Kitchen serves a modern Eastern Mediterranean menu (my pre-show dinner was herby fritters with chunks of halloumi, accompanied by a crunchy endive, pea shoot and artichoke salad.) But alongside this is a cosy, dimly lit lounge area with velvet armchairs and walls lined with bookshelves, a spookily accurate imitation of the library I’ve always dreamt of having… Needless to say, I’m in love. The distance could be an issue, but I’m hoping we’ll be reunited soon.

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