Wayne McGregor⎪Random Dance: Atomos

Posted: December 23rd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Wayne McGregor⎪ Random Dance, Atomos, Brighton Dome, November 8

Atomos: photo Rick Guest with Olivia Pomp

Atomos: photo Rick Guest with Olivia Pomp

I wonder — and this is just a hunch — if choreographers who are elevated to a position of high visibility very soon in their careers have a problem managing expectation; if, in the absence of anything new to say, they tend to fall back on what was initially successful. By ‘anything new to say’ I mean anything new to say through the work rather than about it. Wayne McGregor is certainly not short of words when it comes to talking about his work, but I feel he falls into the category of having little new to say through his work, and thus the impact of his most recent choreography has much the same effect as his last, whether you love it or are bored by it.

What you can expect in a work of McGregor is first and foremost a packaging that is lit beautifully (usually by Lucy Carter), is dressed by someone on the cutting edge of fashion, has state of the art projections, presents a voguish contemporary score and is performed by beautifully edgy dancers with plastic (one might say elastic) qualities — whether McGregor is dipping into the willing side of The Royal Ballet  (where he is resident choreographer) or into his own company. Apart from the physical aspect, one is inevitably caught up in the intellectual side of his work; the printed program tends to read like a parallel universe of research in cognitive science that reveals McGregor’s curiosity as well as his intelligence and seems designed to link these qualities to the choreography — which is an illusion, for the link is only to the research. I think what we see in a McGregor work is the result of his absorption in his research rather than the fruit of his imagination, which explains perhaps the lack of empathy — communication with an audience. McGregor might well say he never intended it to be there.

His latest research-laden work, Atomos, continues the trend. The essay in the printed program by social anthropologist James Leach, under the heading What is a body? makes you wonder if you will understand anything at all, but on a closer reading the text runs alongside the work without ever touching. “We feel bodies. They have presence. Their stance, position, intention, emotion, desire, reach, shame, passion, expansion and contraction are recognisable and compelling because this movement, this life, is already part of the common shared space. The only way the self is known and experienced is with others, as presences or absences. The material that the company creates has this quality.” But doesn’t all dance have this quality? He finishes with, “McGregor insists the body is fascinating. He insists it is intelligent. It thinks, solves, makes and creates. He strives to recognize and organise this intelligence — an intelligence that is in and between the dancers, emergent from the relation not the individual. His work both reveals and challenges our sense of what it is to be a human with others, a body that is always there in its concern with, constitution by, and presence among our own and other kinds. Thinking is also movement.” You read that, you see the show and you say to yourself, that was really intelligent. Or you say, with much trepidation, what was all that about? I once heard an audience member ask McGregor in a post-show talk following Far what the work was about. “What do you think the work is about?” came the immediate retort.

Atomos is a fairly typical McGregor thoroughbred: choreographed on his own dancers, lit by Carter, costumed by the fashion and technology duo Studio XO, scored by A Winged Victory For The Sullen and with projections by Ravi Deepres, it has a sexy array of techno packaging, including the option of 3D viewing. It turns out the glasses are needed only for the projections, not for the dancers. So when the five screens eventually slot into place, we don the glasses to see a pink square traveling through the dark auditorium towards us. Is this a distraction to the choreography? Not according to McGregor, who apparently responded to one of his dancers that it is only a distraction if you think the dance is the only thing. Is McGregor having so much fun with his collaborative team that he has turned his back on his audience? At a Hay Festival event this year, the ‘legendary’ McGregor was scheduled to be interviewed by Sarah Crompton with Audrey Niffenegger, author of Raven Girl that McGregor had just adapted for the Royal Ballet. He didn’t show up. Dance is of small but growing interest in the world of literary festivals and his presence would have helped the momentum. Crompton made no comment on his absence but a Royal Ballet aficionado in the audience had come to hear McGregor and wondered out loud where he was. The two women looked at each other sheepishly, apologised and Niffenegger added, “To the best of my knowledge Wayne is madly at work.”

McGregor’s research into the nature of movement may well be useful, even groundbreaking, but for whom? Atomos was created with the help of an ‘artificiallly intelligent, life size, digitally rendered “body”’ in the studio, in effect another dancer provoking new movement creation through technology. It begs the question of what is feeding into the system. What if it responds in kind to a poverty of choreographic input?

With much contemporary choreography in which ideas are pulled from observation or study of the natural world, it is illuminating to glimpse the processes the choreographer uses to arrive at the final product we see on stage. But interesting research does not in itself equate to stimulating choreographic work. In the pushing of boundaries originality can be lost.