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Wayne McGregor | Random Dance

April 23, 2014
Photograph by Ravi Deepres

FAR

Reviewed April 23, 2014

NAC Theatre, Ottawa

If the body is “the inseparable dancing partner of the mind” (as declared by former British historian Roy Porter, who specialized in the social history of the Enlightenment), then British choreographer Wayne McGregor is a daring adventurer into the complexities of the imagination.

In FAR, an acronym for Porter’s “Flesh in the Age of Reason,” McGregor navigates a convoluted, somewhat haphazard universe framed by medieval torches and a futuristic giant circuit board pulsating with 3,200 LED lights.

As the 60-minute work opens on a dimly lit set with four dancers carrying impressive flaming torches, we may well question if McGregor is taking us into the 18th century, when philosophers first begin to question institutionalized religion and revelation gives way to reason.

McGregor, who is resident choreographer of The Royal Ballet in London, and whose company Random Dance is the resident company at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, has been called a “dance wunderkind.” He is naturally curious, boldly experimental, and fascinated by brain science as well as dysfunctional and traumatized bodies.

It might be as difficult for the observer to make sense of his dance creations as it is to sift through the impulsive neurons of an average human brain. Trying to make sense of or find meaning in McGregor’s work may well turn your average brain into a twisted one.

As FAR progresses, the torch bearers fade away and a backdrop of twinkling lights emerge on a gigantic metallic board that reaches nearly halfway up the back of the stage. The enchanting Vivaldi that accompanies the opening minimally clad duo melts away into an electronic fusion, composed by the young post-classical electronic musician Ben Frost, born in Australia but residing in Iceland.

It doesn’t take long for McGregor to introduce us to the odd choreography he has fashioned for his 10 lithe, nearly double-jointed dancers. FAR explores the elasticity of the body, as the five men and five women display unusual flexions, folding of body parts, hyperextensions and extreme contortions. The harsh, cold light accentuates the intense movement of the dancers’ long, tightly stretched limbs.

The play of the light, a Lucy Carter design, is an integral part of the dance. The pattern of tiny lamps on the large board contorts and twists in relation to the bodies – undulating, shooting out single spots, or becoming a digital countdown clock.

Mostly the dancers’ lean limbs – without exception – are exposed to emphasize the muscularity of their bodies. Supple and precise, the dancers themselves are mesmerizing to watch, with their rippling backs, rubber-like arms and rib cages that appear to be dislocated.

As the dance progresses, all 10 dancers shift onto the stage in the midst of a slow rolling mist and the piece becomes chaotic and conflictual with pairs and trios of dancers pushing against one another, or twisting their limbs together into alien shapes.

The interaction spirals into an inharmonious sense of danger as the stage is flooded with a neon orange glow. The electronic rumble begins to sound inhuman, repulsive even. And the whole seems off kilter.

Intermittently, the dancers discover patterns of harmony and experience a moment of beauty and then, just as suddenly, their sleek efforts fall again into chaos, until the work reaches an apex of repetition and irritation.

Sometime before the curtain falls on a single female body lying on her back on the floor in an eerie stillness, the work feels like chalk on a blackboard or a radio dialed slightly off the mark.

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From → Contemporary

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