Wayne McGregor/Random Dance
Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London; November 17, 2010
by David Mead
Wayne McGregor, one of the more cerebral of choreographers, has sought for some time to better understand the body-mind connection that exists in movement and in choreography. He says he has always been fascinated by the idea of a body misbehaving and not obeying the conventional rules of dancing. In making “FAR,” he has been working with cognitive scientists in an attempt to change how the dancers think about what they do. As he rightly says, if you always imagine in the same habitual way, the chances are you are going to move in the same habitual way. So, if you can redirect the imagining you should be able redirect the movement. All this is linked to “Flesh in the Age of Reason” (hence “FAR”), Roy Porter’s history of 18th century explorations into body and soul.
Beauty may be a by-product of the process of making “FAR,” but much of the resulting choreography is just that. The duets are particularly impressive. The sense of exploration of the body and what it is capable of, where it might go is palpable. It’s often as if a conversation is going on, although one later, smoky section almost seems to be a series of fights for the space. Contrasting this are quite a few balletic reference points: a fourth position here, a fifth there, classical attitudes, jetés, even beats. But the larger the number of dancers on stage the less effective the work becomes. There is almost so much going on that clarity suffers, and while the whole ensemble unison moments come as something of a surprise given the individuality that frames them, they lack power.
As ever, Random’s dancers are outstanding. Their whole bodies seem to be in motion almost constantly, always strong, but with a strength that sometimes comes through tension, sometimes through fluidity, with backs and limbs that ripple, uncurl and reach out like sea anemone tentacles. McGregor and his dancers seem to have a never ending stream of inventive and surprising ways of coming together or being in the same space. Some of the movement is right on the edge, done with great pace and with sudden changes of direction. Supports come out of nowhere as a dancer runs, suddenly stops and falls backwards or to the side and is deftly caught.
Lucy Carter and rAndom International’s staging give the work an air of mystery. A white panel behind the dancers containing rows of tubular white lights that come on and off is most effective as it is used as a digital counter or made to produce a series of patterns, shimmer like the sun glinting off a gently rippling pond or splash like raindrops.
While the movement itself is sensual and engaging, and “FAR” has a clear beginning and end, the bulk of the piece does rather lack structure. Scenes come and go but it gives the impression of a series of separate choreographic exercises rather than a coherent whole. Some individual moments jar too. Looking back, the torch bearers that frame the opening couple now seem decidedly incongruous, placing an otherwise timeless work clearly in a particular time. Later, when two dancers are seen initially in green rectangular pyramids of light, the brain immediately yelled “Beam me up.” Ben Frost’s electronic score does not really add anything and was little more than background noise.
Whether the dancers were truly been disconnected from their habits when making “FAR” must be questionable. And does it matter to most people anyway? McGregor needs to be careful that process does not become all. While it is surely of interest and importance for dance-makers and dancers, most of the audience is almost certainly more interested in what is on the stage rather than how it got there. In “FAR” McGregor definitely gives plenty for the senses to get to grips with though. I don’t often get a kinaesthetic empathy with what’s happening in front of me, but I did here..Wayne McGregor/Random Dance are touring “FAR” throughout 2011 with dates in Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Russia, Hungary, UK and USA. See http://www.randomdance.org/tour_dates for details.
This review, with images, will appear subsequently in the magazine.