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Random Dance Company - 'Amu'

by Cassandra

September 16, 2005 -- Sadler's Wells, London

For his latest work, “Amu”, Wayne McGregor has joined forces with distinguished composer John Tavener, who in recent years has become more and more influenced by eastern music and religions, particularly those of the Persian Sufi’s. “Amu” is based on the Sufi legend of Laila and Majnun, which has also inspired Russian choreographer Kasian Goleizovski in the past. This theme of tragic love, however, doesn't really spill over into McGregor’s choreography where romantic yearnings are mostly absent. Solo dancers often appear wracked with anguish, experiencing some inner pain, the cause of which we can only guess at.

As a deep feeling of spirituality infuses all of the devout Tavener’s work -- and McGregor is one of the most musically aware of choreographers -- “Amu” takes McGregor along musical paths he has never ventured down before. The music opens with a throbbing heart beat that recurs throughout the score and is soon replaced by gravelly bass voices and alternating vocal and instrumental passages. The music comes full circle, closing with the ominous heartbeat.

There is a centre passage of intriguing light effects when the dancers vacate the stage to be replaced by a column of mist, which hints at a nuclear explosion. The mist then forms two squares, one above the other, that seem to disintegrate along the edges, dissolving and re-forming into ghostly silhouettes, rather like the idea of ectoplasm. When two dancers return to the stage to perform a pas de deux, the light shapes break up into scores of small wriggling microcosms, like the contents of a Petri dish. A curious feature of this second half is the isolated figure of a woman amidst the other dancers. Her stillness reminds of Stravinsky’s chosen virgin in “Rite of Spring”.

The work ends when the motionless figures of the dancers slowly begin to ascend upwards (towards heaven or perhaps to some transcendental state). This image makes a memorable and beautiful finale.

McGregor’s trademark high-energy movement is still apparent, though tempered by the mystical elements of the score on this occasion. It was a tour de force performance by the nine dancers of the company, but the production team must also share the honors in creating an exciting visual experience.

I found “Amu” an intensely moving work about the heart, and it certainly touched mine.

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