Next Wave Festival
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, NYC
December 9â€“12, 2009
Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa
Photo: Antony Hamilton in “Mortal Engine.” Photo by Andrew Curtis, Courtesy BAM.
The Mothership has landed! “Mortal Engine”â€”a technical extravaganza, premiered in 2008 and recently flown to New York by Australia’s Chunky Moveâ€”puts most other multimedia productions to shame.
In this hour-long work, six men and women portray â€?unformed beings in an unfamiliar landscapeâ€?â€”the program notes inform us in typically vague, dispassionate languageâ€”â€œsearching to connect and evolve in a constant state of becoming.â€? They mount, creep across or plaster their backs against a broad platform that dramatically alters itself by tilting partway or all the way up from the floor or opening flaps for various segments of the action.
Designed by Richard Dinnen and director-choreographer Gideon Obarzanek, this set also serves as a screen for an array of dizzying, abstract video projections generated by the responsive interaction of Frieder Weiss’s sound- and motion-sensing software with Ben Frost’s wild electronic score and the dancers’ movements. By the end, you’re convinced that you can’t look at a body without also perceiving its oscillating circles and spaghetti heaps of light, its high-pitched buzzes, its smudgy shadows, its metallic crunches. There you have it, ladies and gentlemenâ€”induced synaesthesia.
For the most part, individual humanity gets splattered and submerged by special effects, turning dancers themselves into spray-paint graffiti. Just when this starts to get stale, we’re hit with a huge 3D laser effect that would not be out of place in a high-budget sci-fi movie. (Think â€œblack holeâ€?â€”only this hole is a beautiful, shimmering electric green.) Viewers in the mood for this sort of thing will be seriously dazzled.
I thought backâ€”way, way backâ€”to the days of that low-tech effects-wizard Alwin Nikolais and marveled at how far we had come and how far we had not come. There’s still no there there. “Mortal Engine” goes for the big wow! But it achieves more of a â€œWow, what was that I just saw?â€?