‘FAR’. Random Dance

11 October 2012, Northern Stage, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Wayne McGregor’s works are always accompanied by intellectually demanding notes and explanations. FAR is no exception. Made originally in 2010, it is according to McGregor inspired by a study of the Enlightenment by English academic Roy Porter entitled Flesh in the Age of Reason (from which comes, as an acronym, the name of McGregor’s work).

However, I am a fan of the now probably outmoded concept of ‘intentional fallacy’ whereby the artist’s intention is not a standard for judging the success or failure of a work. While it is always interesting to read what the artist believes is the intention of, or forms the inspiration for a work, the work has to stand on its own and must be open to the necessarily varied interpretations of the audience.

FAR begins with a duet, which can only be described as a passionate, if somewhat acrobatic, exploration of the boundaries of what the body can do in dance. The couple, a man and a woman, are attended by four black-clad figures holding flaming torches. These figures vanish quietly and almost imperceptibly one by one throughout the duet. The dancers perform to an 18th century aria, Sposa son disprezzata (‘I am wife and I am scorned’) by Gemininao Giacomelli and sung by Cecilia Bartoli, and the whole is extraordinarily emotional.

But this lush opening gives way to the hard edge of the 21st century as a growling electronic score by Ben Frost takes over and the flicker of torches is replaced by LED lighting (design by Lucy Carter) in the form of five rows of tiny tubes projecting from a rectangular, white board, which occupies much of the back section of the stage. The choreography too seems to lose its fluidity and becomes more angular, and full of flicking hands and very busy bodies.

Occasionally one might read a narrative line into some sections. There are moments when the dancers seem to engage in an argument for example as they push each other around. Occasionally too the ensemble of ten dancers moves as one and this comes as something of a shock to the eye after the seemingly random structuring of bodies on stage. A duet for two men is a highlight, as is a brief moment when two dancers crouch low together on the stage holding a difficult pose on half pointe.

The work closes with another strong duet for a man and a woman in which the woman’s body in particular is often stretched taut, as if to balance the rippling bodies that we have seen in abundance throughout the work. In the final moments the man lowers the woman to the floor, leaves her lying there and walks off.

Some may have seen in this work a connection between body and soul, which was at the heart of Porter’s investigations into the 18th century mode of thinking and behaving. I didn’t think about it as I watched the show. More than anything, seeing McGregor’s tangled yet clearly articulated choreographic moves is a treat, especially when performed by the athletic dancers who make up Random Dance. It was a pleasure to see Anthony Whitely again too, now dancing with Random Dance after his stint with Sydney Dance Company.

FARThe closing duet from FAR.

Michelle Potter, 14 October 2012

‘Entity.’ Random Dance

28 January 2011, Sydney Theatre, Walsh Bay. Sydney Festival, 2011

Wayne McGregor’s Entity, performed by his company Random Dance as part of the 2011 Sydney Festival, begins and ends with black and white footage of a greyhound in motion. It may be or be based on the work of the nineteenth-century, British-American photographer Eadweard Muybridge, a pioneer of the physics of animal locution. It certainly recalls the work of Muybridge. To me this visual clue is of far greater import and carries much more interest for the viewer than any amount of philosophical discussion of McGregor’s research project ‘Choreography and cognition’ and his work with neuroscientists, as fascinating as those and other aspects of McGregor’s career are.

Entity shows the remarkable ability of the human body to move, bend, twist, flex, soar and travel. Like the greyhound the dancers are sleek. Their limbs extend and reach outwards. Their bodies are stretched long and lean. They use their muscles efficiently. They move with intention. In their black briefs and white T-tops, dispensed with towards the end to reveal black bra tops on the women and for the men a bare upper body, they hover on the edge of classical movement before morphing into strange new shapes. They twist and contort their bodies with one recurring motif being an arched spine with backside pushed out, the antithesis of the classically stretched spine with the head balanced perfectly at the top. Bodies are in constant dialogue with each other and the movement screams out its edginess.

Danced to a score by Joby Talbot followed by another from Jon Hopkins, the work is set in an enclosed space consisting of three light coloured, translucent screens, one at each side and one at the back of the stage area. Designed by Patrick Burnier they can be manipulated by a (viewable) mechanical system and lit when required. When lit (design by Lucy Carter) their internal structure is further revealed. During the second part of the work the screens rise above the dancers and are enhanced by video projections. From my position towards the back of the circle of the Sydney Theatre it was not entirely clear what the projections were other than they seemed to be various formulae. Part of the choreographer’s fascination with mathematical and engineering principles?

But in the end Entity is about McGregor’s choreography and about his attitude to how the body can move in this present day and age. It makes me long to see more of McGregor’s work, especially when danced by intensively trained ballet dancers. There are some great scenes of McGregor rehearsing Genus, his work for the Paris Opera Ballet, along with brief excerpts from the work in performance in the recent film La danse. While Random Dance performed superbly in Sydney, there is something additional in the way the dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet perform. There is a certain security in the way they move, an inherent understanding of the body, something deeply intuitive about movement, that allows McGregor’s classical references to be offset in a particular way. The mix of the classical and the restive tension of today becomes heightened and makes us see both and all more clearly.

Although this is a little simplistic, McGregor reminds me of Merce Cunningham, George Balanchine and William Forsythe rolled into one. He’s a formalist. He dispenses with fussy costumes and decorative sets. And he has a remarkable intellectual curiosity. It makes for unusual and ultimately satisfying dance, which in its essence is purely McGregor.

Michelle Potter, 31 January 2011