The Australian company Chunky Move, which made its U.S. debut at the 2001 Next Wave Festival with CRUMPLED and CORRUPTED 2, returns to BAM for the highly anticipated MORTAL ENGINE, a sixty-minute piece that comes with the following warning: “This production contains partial nudity, smoke, laser and strobe lighting effects, and loud volume audio,” which is just what we’ve come to expect from this cutting-edge troupe. In the spring of 2005, we were amazed by Chunky Move’s insanely good TENSE DAVE at Dance Theater Workshop, and in February 2008 we caught their insanely good GLOW at the Kitchen, calling it “a visual and physical wonder . . . What could have been gimmicky is instead revelatory, a breathless, virtuosic half hour that investigates the essence of the organic form,” and there’s every reason to believe that MORTAL ENGINE should continue the insanely good trend. GLOW is directed and choreographed by company founder Gideon Obarzanek, with interactive system design by Frieder Weiss, laser and sound by Robin Fox, music composed by Ben Frost, and lighting design by Damien Cooper. The December 10 performance will be followed by an Artist Talk with Obarzanek, Weiss, and various members of the cast and crew, moderated by André Lepecki. Be prepared for a whirlwind of sight, sound, and movement.
While GLOW was an intimate gathering in the Kitchen, where the small audience sat on four sides of the dance space, a tiny vinyl rectangle on the floor, MORTAL ENGINE turns out to be a much larger spectacle, performed on an steeply raked white platform at center stage of the vast Howard Gilman Opera House, where dancers walk, crawl, twist, turn, and hang on as the lights and sounds react to their movements, in a dazzling display. Two of the floor panels occasionally tilt up vertically, creating walls against which, at one point, two dancers wriggle, as if attached by a sticky substance, accompanied by a fascinating oozy sound. Unfortunately, at times the vastly talented crew gets caught up in the spectacular technology, as long patches of the piece abandon the dancers and simply show off amazing computer-generated interactive lighting and sound design that takes the audience away from the compelling narrative of duality and interconnectedness. But then smoke machines unleash a dense fog that becomes otherworldly as green lasers shoot out across the theater, involving the spectators in the gorgeous maelstrom, the bands of light manipulated onstage by two dancers. Even though a passing random thought of Laser Floyd is hard to avoid, it’s an unforgettable scene, the highlight of a choppy but fascinating night of dance theater.