According to the World Health Organisation (2015) every 90 seconds a child dies from water-related diseases. In developed nations access to safe water is a given; so much so that water’s vital role in development is often forgotten, disappearing into the background like so many transparent drops. Inspired by these facts Scattered, the first part of an Earth trilogy created by Kevin Finnan’s Motionhouse Dance Company, explores various visions of water. Resolutely framed by the social, political and ecological context, the programme notes include quotations from the former Vice-President of the World Bank, Ismail Seragaldin arguing that: ‘the wars of the next century will be about water’.

© Chris Nash
© Chris Nash

Scattered was originally created in 2009 and as Motionhouse’s longest running show, has toured nationally and internationally. Audiences, intermittently gasping and chuckling, love the blend of humour and jaw-dropping acrobatic movements on display. Kevin Finnan, the company’s artistic director choreographed Scattered in a collaborative way responding to dancers' ideas and their bodily response as they are thrown against, climb, swing and dangle from a large sloping wall which forms the centrepiece of the show.

Simon Dorman’s stage design is genuinely exciting: the choreographic possibilities created by the curved wall are endless. But, performed using what looks like a skate park half-pipe, the piece’s subject matter remains, unfortunately, secondary to athleticism and ingenuity as dancers interact with and are absorbed by film projected against this ‘half-pipe’ wall. Dressed in soft colours and loose clothes, a single dancer unfurling his large limbs from a yogi-like position and then moving calmly across the stage in a series of tai chi inspired lunges opens Scattered. Initially infused with mystical calm the tone shifts as the stage fills with dancers shivering and shuddering, their staccato movements suggestive of the contractions and convulsions of dehydration. While stylistically these abstract allusions to water do not result in particularly interesting movement they are more effective than the use of water-bottle props later on in the piece. Dancers weaving across the stage aimlessly waving water-bottles above their heads, while gurgling, are farcically literal.

© Sharon Bradford
© Sharon Bradford

However, Motionhouse’s dancers are fearless. As they repeatedly throw themselves from the top of the wall and swoop across the stage they seem to defy gravity and become cinematic in their super-human convolutions; in many ways this is dancing as special effects. Luka Owen and Junior Cunningham are particularly able dancers and Owen’s gentle expressivity softens the frequent inclination for circus-style smiles.

While the wall is an innovative piece of stage design, the visual projections are woefully dated. Icebergs, running taps and freezer interiors are used as reference-points to the overall purpose of the piece. These visuals miss the point of the towering wall and potential for transcendence embedded in those flying dancer’s bodies. It’s an awkward aesthetic clash: awe inducing acrobatics performed against an image of domesticity – a tap dripping.

© Sharon Bradford
© Sharon Bradford

This interaction between mundane film and live performance feels misguided and opportunities to use the curved wall as bodily extension are not fully exploited. Deceptively simple, capturing the essence of this colourless, odourless liquid is a tall order and movement inspiration drawn from the properties of water: its surface tension, transparency and absorption in the atmosphere are difficult to realise. And yet, after this evening’s performance it remains clear that ‘capturing’ water’s essence cannot be achieved through clichéd images:iceberg refrigerator, waterfall or through Scattered’s uninspiring movement vocabulary which fails to exploit the possibilities inherent in the stage design. Ultimately, the dancers, and their trusting willingness to jump from great heights, were failed by a lack of choreographic innovation.

**111