Wayne McGregor: Fastest Mind/body in the West

February 11, 2010

In my “Shoptalk” with Wayne last night at Peak Performances@Montclair, he raced through telling us about some of his science experiments. They went beyond my (very rudimentary) knowledge, but what I got was that it is a way to understand creative process, cognitive process, and collaborative process and how they affect each other. He comes by his science naturally: As a kid he was into computers. Some choreographers bring their music background to enrich the work (like Balanchine, or more recently, Miro Magloire), but he brings his science head. His really physical, really extreme movement existing in a high-tech environment makes a very contemporary statement.


Wayne talked about the state of readiness that his dancers have to be in. Boy, do they ever! In the East Coast premiere of ENTITY  that followed, the dancers of Random Dance enter into distortions that amaze or alarm. The pelvis goes wayyy forward or wayyyy back. And there are plenty of crooked wrists, sickled feet, and mashed arms. Sometimes two bodies look tied in knots or stuck to flypaper. Doesn’t sound pretty? It’s not at all, but very bracing. The women are incredibly strong. The whole piece, or whole entity, is engaging not only for its movement language, but also for the changes of relationships, groupings, and mood. You are exposed to another world, another planet. But secret tender moments save it from being merely a far-out experience. For instance, while large-scale weirdness (to use a John Rockwell term) was going on center stage, upstage right a man was lying down, and a woman was slowly, carefully lowering his head to the floor. Not everyone saw this moment, and I know there were moments I missed that others saw.


Talking about seeing, toward the end of our talk, Wayne said that when a critic sees only sameness, it stems from how that person’s mind is organized. The sameness is not necessarily in the work, but in that critic’s perception. Where one person sees sameness, another sees difference. Our talk was filled with gems like that.


And what choreographers does this wunderkind of British dance admire? The Americans, with Merce topping the list, but also Trisha, Twyla, Paul Taylor—and Forsythe. I do think that the bracing quality of Wayne’s work, the thing that makes audiences alert though it adheres to no known laws of aesthetics, is similar to when Merce started showing his work and people were puzzled by it but knew it was something new. Another planet. And by the way, most of us have just started hearing about Wayne in the last couple years, but he was a “25 to Watch” in Dance Magazine back in 2001!


After the show I had good conversations with a couple dancers. I think they feel that Wayne really probes their individuality. Antoine Vereecken, who trained at the Royal Ballet School of Antwerp, had opened ENTITY with a solo. You can’t miss him, as he’s the one who pushes his rib cage forward in a classic example of bad alignment. But his posture is fascinating and kind of echoes the film of the greyhound (Muybridge photos made into a film), and its inevitably forward motion. Antoine told me that all his life, his teachers and directors gave him the correction to keep his ribs in. But Wayne says to him, “More ribs, more ribs!” Antoine rolled his eyes and said, “And it feels so good.”


Pictured: ENTITY,
with Antoine Vereecken, Anh Ngoc Nguyen, Angel Martinez Hernandez, Neil Fleming Brown


Photo by Ravi Deepres,

 Courtesy Wayne McGregor / Random Dance