Dallas — A little MOMIX, a dab of Elizabeth Streb, a hilt of Diavolo, a dollop of Jessica Lang’s i.n.k. and you will have some idea of what hit you Saturday night at the Dallas City Performance Hall when TITAS brought Motionhouse Dance Theater to the stage.
But not exactly, for the 90-minute Scattered existed in a plane to itself, fresh and inventive and best of all, seldom letting the video and stage effects drown all the movement.
That was no easy task when the video background changed constantly from splashing water to dry, cracked earth, to chairs floating on a broken icecap to a slimy greenish sewer. As striking as these images are, what makes them compelling is how the dancers invade the space: a huge slanted fiberglass ramp that starts on the floor and reaches halfway to the ceiling. Dancers stand at its top and tumble down or scramble up, or hang from the edge of a precipice, sit on the chairs that float on the icecap, slither like iguanas in a baking desert.
The guiding force of Scattered is water and all its magnifications: its danger, its beauty, its power to sustain life. It begins on a dark note, with a figure hunched over. He slowly lifts one arm and rises on one leg, balancing for a long time. The sound of wind whipping past grows as others appear, scrunched over, clutching their arms close to their bodies. With great effort, they reach out to touch one another.
But the mood and the images shift: the iceberg breaks apart, water burbles in a pond, giant spouts open at full blast, and on and on.
The iceberg is particularly uncanny. Two large deck chairs start to float across the ice, and a man and woman jump up and sit on them. They return to safe ground and the chairs float away, followed by a house, then a car. In some strange way, the chair returns and a woman sits on it, but now it is within a refrigerator.
And so it goes, with dancers finding their way in a sewer and trying to get free by climbing a staircase. Then they become iguanas lying on the cracked desert earth, raising their heads and then a leg. It is fascinating and disconcerting, all the more so when men slither down the ramp.
There are other interactions with the environment: dancers slamming their bodies into a pool of water to stir up bubbles—or like rock climbers, they hold onto the top of a dam with their fingers, or slide down a sheet of water from a waterfall, or brandish water bottles like weapons. They are forever running up the ramp (where no foothold is visible) and sliding down, sometimes face first. On the ground, they slide and fall, jump and grab one other, in movement that is powerful and fluid – like that of its counterpart, the everchanging water.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.
» Photos copyright Sharen Bradford of The Dancing Image