Wayne McGregor | Random Dance

November 17, 2010


Wayne McGregor | Random Dance
Sadler’s Wells, London, England

November 17–20, 2010

Reviewed by Donald Hutera


Wayne McGregor’s latest work for Random Dance comes swathed in the details of his continuing research with neuro-scientists into cognition and creativity. FAR derives even more direct inspiration from 18th-century investigations into the mind and body. (The title itself is a reference to Flesh in the Age of Reason, Roy Porter’s posthumously published book about how such matters were explored and perceived during the Enlightenment.)

All of this background is impressive, but it doesn’t prevent FAR from nearly collapsing under the weight of its intellectual pedigree. That it doesn’t quite do so is, in part, a credit to McGregor’s choice of collaborators—that is, 10 dancers and a design team including lighting supremo Lucy Carter. But while it contains beautiful moments and striking imagery, this hour-long performance is far from satisfying.

Against the iconic backdrop of a huge, rectangular circuit board (designed by the collective rAndom International) an exemplary ensemble works its way through a series of solos, duets, and other colliding configurations. Although their mannered movement and spatial relationships owe a debt to both Cunningham and Forsythe, McGregor has forged a distinctive aesthetic based on the body in extremity. In tight, scant clothing his dancers swoop and sway, their frenetic undulations stretched out at warp speed; it’s a traumatic style akin to watching wading birds gone mad.


It’s not the distorted vocabulary I found troubling in FAR so much as the relentless pace of the motion, and the way it seems to pass like a contagion amongst the bodies onstage. The dancers are faultless, none more so than Alexander Whitley (until recently an outstanding member of Rambert Dance Company) whose compact, chiselled frame and restless precision command attention. But McGregor rarely gives any of them a break. Their unvarying struggles become excessive and exhausting. As a test I closed my eyes a couple of times for maybe just 10 to 30 seconds but, upon opening them again, I felt I’d not missed much.

My earlier praise for McGregor’s creative associates doesn’t quite extend to the young Australian composer Ben Frost. A few vocals (containing reference to angels and, later, death) are inserted into the throbbing, sizzling, and essentially minimalist textures of his pre-recorded electronic score. In common with the dance itself, the overall effect is rambling and punitive. Perhaps, like Frost’s music, FAR is meant to bypass the brain and be absorbed into our nervous systems. The piece is parenthesized by duets. The final one carries a strong suggestion of mortality, a notion sealed by that ever-present, flickering circuit board rising like a spirit liberated from its human shell. It’s an effective and affecting finish but for me it came too late to work in the dance’s favor.