Wayne McGregor – Random Dance
Yerba Buena Center for the Performing Arts
San Francisco, California
12 November 2011
By Catherine Pawlick
Bequeathed numerous awards, among them a Lawrence Oliver Award (2007), a Benois de la Danse (2009) and Britain’s highest award in the performing arts, that of Commander of the Order of the Bristish Empire, Wayne McGregor is certainly no stranger to the international dance scene. In addition to a resume full of creations for major companies – Paris Opera Ballet, La Scala, New York City Ballet among them, with plans for the Bolshoi next season – McGregor’s own company, Random Dance, has provided him with one of his main choreographic canvasses since 1992. In early November, a two-night stop in San Francisco enabled local audiences to see a work he began as part of a “rare autonomous choreographic project” three years ago.
Entity'stitle prompts curiosity, but it is based on McGregor’s search for a computer program that can create choreography, one of his many projects that combine the best of cutting-edge science with this visual, body-based art form. Entity is at once indefinable and void of the traditional structural bases for common contemporary dance works, and at its core leaves the audience seeking meaning --a definition, or maybe a category--a way to make sense of the complicated elements on stage.
And what we see is complex indeed. Three white panels created by Patrick Burnier frame the stage, and these screens are raised and lowered throughout the performance. Films of a running greyhound are projected onto the screens first, followed later by microscopic bacteria, needles or leaves, serving as a model for the dance that appears on stage. Against these shifting backdrops, McGregor’s troupe of earthy, flexible dancers offer combinations complex in both movement and number. Bits of emotion appear – a near embrace, a half struggle – but there is no continuum. Sexuality too is hinted at, but the hint itself then evaporates into busy movement. In fact, McGregory’s chaos of movement builds into a series of scattered mini explosions, but peppered in long before the finale are duets, trios and solo work. The point seems to be movement for the sake of movement, movement as reaction, set off by an impulse that comes from outside. In the void of an obvious narrative, Entity is at its core a story of movement, and thus almost paradoxical: what unites the work is itself at once separate and individual.
The musical score – a compilation of musical recordings by Joby Talbot and Coldplay collaborator Jon Hopkins that range from classical to pumping club beats – shifts from the slow legato of a somber cello variation into a thudding loud bass, and back to tinkling piano music. The various tempi and musical moods are reflected mostly in the speed and urgency of the movement: no matter what the dancers do, it is deliberate. Hands flutter on a neck, a spine is “zipped up”, parallel legs twist over each other plié, feet perform entrechat six while lying prone, torsos curl in waves. Sometimes the body initiates the movement, but sometimes it is a hand, foot or limb. Elements of contact improvisation appear especially in the duet work, and the result is a complex choreographic tapestry, whose layers continually interweave, adding depth and breadth without necessarily adding meaning – at least not obvious meaning. The dancers explore both the space around them and the physics of movement, at least until Alexander Whitley executes a double tour, and suddenly soars above the stage. Whitley’s sole cabriole later in the work incites a craving to see more of the same; this dancer’s talents go beyond the floor-and-ground work on which Entity is based.
The lack of narrative here, common in modern dance today, seems especially noteworthy coming from a choreographer who has based much of his work on scientific invention and psychological insights. Entity asks us where the unit lies, and the brain seeks to create a meaningful definition from this complicated display of movement. For McGregor, it may be that the exploration itself is the goal. At the least, Entity offers unique movement combinations that keep you pondering long after the performance has ended; at best, McGregor’s attempt at combining art and science while touching on philosophy and psychology is endlessly intriguing. It seems his journey has only just begun.
Author, "Vaganova Today: The Preservation of Pedagogical Tradition" (available on amazon.com)