After watching highlights of Chunky Move‘s Mortal Engine online I was absolutely psyched for lasers, partial nudity and composer Ben Frost’s abrasive electronic score. I was most excited about the light projections that are generated in real-time by the dancers’ movements (best used in a scene depicting a male and female dancer in the unconscious world of sleep).
Unfortunately, throughout the first half of this preview performance – the first in Sydney since Mortal Engine debuted at the 2008 Sydney Festival – some technical hiccoughs impaired the performance and discouraged the dancers, whose physical strength and grace proved more enchanting than the whizz-bang technology involved in Robin Fox’s laser and video images.
After an emergency recalibration by the technical team, the second part launched far more smoothly – and it was brilliant. The light projections were now soldered to Artistic Director Gideon Obarzanek’s distinctive choreography, which combined jerking, jilting, insect-like movements with controlled fluidity, exploring the human body as something un- or pre-formed. In the last half hour, the dancers (tiny Sara Black was a stand out) seemed to have gained a second wind, their movements even more hypnotically gooey.
In one especially moving scene, two dancers entwine their spot-lit hands in a complex, tender finger dance, exploring the minutiae of intimacy. It was the little moments like these that I found more remarkable than the extravagant Star Trek-inspired light-beam finale. With the technological difficulties ironed out, technology became an extension of the choreography, rather than a distraction.