Kevin Finnan says he turned on the tap for his bathroom sink and became mesmerized by the water flowing from the spigot.
"Look at that," he said to his kids. "That's a miracle, it's amazing."
Finnan's kids rolled their eyes, but their father, co-founder and artistic director of the high-octane British dance troupe Motionhouse, already was crystallizing his next idea for a show. He called it Scattered, and it comes to Centre College's Norton Center for the Arts in Danville this weekend.
Scattered is a visually driven contemporary dance production inspired by water, and not just the water flowing from Finnan's tap. It delves into the earth's complex water cycle, water's physical and chemical properties, and humanity's relationship to H2O.
"We all know that water is going to be a really big issue in this century," Finnan says, adding that he didn't want the work to be polemical. "We're kind of like fish. We have water all around us, but we don't really see it."
Scattered aims to change that. Finnan calls the work a "visual poem," a nonlinear narrative that relies heavily on color, innovative set designs, film and of course, powerhouse dancing.
"It moves through all the different ways that water affects our lives and how we interact with it," he says. "The show follows a sort of color logic, beginning with the white of the icy world through the blue of the Northern Hemisphere, the green of the habitation, the yellow of the deserts, and then back to the green and blue and white. There's whole scenes about what water is like when it's in these situations, but also what it's like when it's atomic — the molecules move toward each other. They're constantly linking up and breaking down, which kind of sounds like human relations to me."
Creating the experience of water onstage is not a simple task. Finnan tapped long-time collaborator Simon Dormon to create a one-of-a-kind design that looks like the sweeping crest of a wave and is similar to the half-pipe configuration used by skateboarders. The show's seven dancers incorporate the curve of the staging, built by Oblique, into their performances, while Logela Multimedia's film of colorful water images is projected throughout the show.
The result is a filmlike contemporary dance experience like no other. Finnan calls this "spectacle," a concept Motionhouse embraces in all of its work.
"This is the century of the spectacle," he says. "Because of the advances in technology, the scale of TV and film and special events, and just the way that we're working with the Internet and the media, people are evolving and developing a real sophisticated understanding of the image."
Finnan added that there was an immediacy to spectacle that not only satisfies audiences but draws them into deeper themes, an approach he embraces with Motionhouse and other commissions.
In 2012, he choreographed the Paralympic Games opening ceremony in London, which he cited as an example of spectacle that was layered with meaning.
"It had content and meaning for the audiences," he says. "We explored human rights in an opening ceremony, which hasn't been done before, so spectacle is a wonderful tool.
"When you think about it, dance is quintessential spectacle. It's for the eyes, it's moving, it takes you out of the everyday and the ordinary."