Edinburgh preview: Mortal Engine, Edinburgh Playhouse

Luke Grundy
Tuesday 12 August 2008 00:00
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A young company with high aspirations invests heavily in a new technology that they themselves have created and use it for the basis of a dance spectacular. Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, but Australian dance group Chunky Move's ambition is only equalled by its optimism.

In their new show Mortal Engine, this young company will be using a novel technology that combines dancers' movements with laser lighting and real-time video projection. The show's director/choreographer Gideon Obarzanek explains: "Initially, I wanted to use video projections as a kind of lighting," he says. "I wanted to know whether it was possible for a projector to understand where dancers are. Rather than working with pre-rendered video, I wanted video that could respond to movement."

Obarzanek is not only the show's director, but also one of the founders of this expressive style. "A couple of years ago, Freider Weiss [the show's interactive computer engineer] and I worked on a solo performance with just one dancer. From that we became more ambitious and we made Mortal Engine." The only ceiling on this is the director's imagination, as he crafts complex loops and patterns to coincide with the dancers' movements.

Part of the show's appeal is its "live" aspect. Although the scenes remain in the same order, the movements of the dancers (and the effects they trigger) are never the same. "The performer is free onstage, and the system responds to them," explains Obarzanek. "That allows the performers to create the sense that this is happening now: it's never happened this way before and it won't happen the same way again."

The director's faith in this medium is unshakeable, but how does he feel audiences will respond? "There are some nerves because the machines we've built to run it are quite new. It's just an exciting place to be as a viewer; you're actually witnessing an event."

17 to 19 August (0131-524 3333)

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