The Set-Up: On February 22, the Society for the Performing Arts presented the Houston debut of U.K.-based dance company Motionhouse. Headed by Artistic Director Kevin Finnan, Motionhouse performed its 2009 piece Scattered: A Meteor Shower of Unlikely Moments at the Wortham Center's Cullen Theater.
The Execution: The use of water as subject matter for dance performance is nothing new. Doris Humphrey's 1928 Water Study experimented with stripping concert dance down to movement itself, her dancers allowing their bodies to be informed by the pull of gravity rather than music. The dancers trickle across the stage in the uninhibited manner of water on the move.
Water, though, is more than a model for interesting movement. Scattered examines water in all its forms - liquid, solid and gas - as well as its sociopolitical implications. In one sequence, the background projection morphs into an image of a giant jellyfish. The bell throbs and pulses, transfiguring into a giant faucet, its tendrils becoming waves of cascading water. The message here is clear; water, a substance of nature since the beginning of time, is now the province of human jurisdiction.
The seven dancers are wondrous in their interpretations of the state of water. Moving through an icy landscape, in water's most solid incarnation, their bodies are stiff and brittle. As they spasm to the ground, the coldness of the landscape is discernible, recognizable, even from the comfort of a plush seat. During the steam sequence, the dancers look absolutely parched, as if every ounce of sweat has been drained from them in one instant. The dancers are aided by a curved wall, which they use to suspend their bodies from like droplets and hurl themselves downward like rolling waves.
The wall is also the screen on which an interactive film is projected onto. The film works best when it's supporting the movement, such as when it becomes an ocean for the dancers to replicate the stormy whims of the water-scape far below the surface. It doesn't quite work as well when the imagery takes on a life of its own. (A green elevator moving in opposition to a waterfall?) But when it works, as it does when the dancers take flight to combine aerial magic and explosive ground work, it shines.
The Verdict: Scattered is successful in its mission of reminding us about the primordial power of water. The tempest of movement on the stage and in the air makes a powerful statement; water is a life-giving, yet, devastating element. And in 2013, that essential element isn't accessible to millions around the world. This is a problem, especially since we are composed of fifty percent water, and inherently hold the power to make equally momentous changes.