Mortal Engine, Edinburgh International Festival Review

Dancers give up their starring roles to technology in Chunky Move’s Mortal Engine, whose European premiere ends tonight at The Edinburgh International Festival. Last night the Edinburgh Playhouse was transformed into a technological melting pot of lights, lasers, sound and smoke.

Mortal Engine at The Edinburgh International Festival promotional poster

Mortal Engine is a relentless invasion of the senses. The action takes place on an angled white square, whose front two sections raise into walls at various points. Using high-tech motion sensing the dynamic images on the square respond to the dancer’s movement; the accompanying sounds are also driven by the movement and position of the dancers. The imagery that results is spectacular, invasive and often hypnotic: dancers draw shadows around themselves; moving beams explode as they intersect bodies; electrifying sound and imagery is matched to movement; hundreds of small dots, full of energy, flow out of the human shapes on stage. The dancers meanwhile slide on and off the slanted square and bond together, only to break apart. Though, the main purpose of the cast is to support the technological behemoth that is Mortal Engine.

For the most part, it’s the human movement which drives the imagery, but it’s the visuals that dominate Mortal Engine. At two separate points the light show plays out with no dancers on stage. Whilst the technology is impressive I’m not sure such an overlong demonstration is needed; with the laser playing to itself near the end, Mortal Engine was closer to a 1990s rave than an Edinburgh International Festival headliner.

The genuinely stunning visuals alone are worth seeing Mortal Engine for, although I’d have been disappointed with this 55 minute show if paying over £20 for a ticket (as many people did). The real criticism of Mortal Engine is the the technology overshadows, in fact dominates the dance. If you’re happy with that trade-off, then you’ll be very happy with Mortal Engine.

Essential | Worth a watch | One to miss

Mortal Engine, by Chunky Move, was showing at the Edinburgh Playhouse, at The Edinburgh International Festival 2008.

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