LAST EDITED ON 02-03-02 AT 09:27 AM (GMT)
Wayne McGregor reaches a public that other choreographers might envy. The audience at Sadler’s Wells last night was young and irreverent; the very people Tony Hall would like to see much more of at the Royal Opera House.
The advance publicity was portentous: “Nemesis explores the interfaces of body, screen and machine – extraterrestrial dance meets reality TV”. As I understood it, the piece represented a retreat from reality into a virtual world, with the nemesis in question the eclipse of humanity by a horde of insects. On this latter section, the dancers wore prosthetics fitted to their arms, designed to give them an insect quality and to change the texture and range of their movement. They certainly carved up the stage space differently as a result.
The stage is alternatively lit like a laptop PC and a chess grid, with back projections representing a cavernous dilapidated and abandoned building. McGregor sought to create the impression of an abandoned ‘grand hotel’. The lighting of the floor space with its chess grids and rectangles represents the virtuality where intensely antagonistic human games are played out. Then these humans torch their reality (we see a building in flames), to be displaced by the insects. Their steel limbs slice through the space in even more ruthless games than those of the humans they have displaced. The dancers are highly impressive; Odette Hughes and Julian de Leon were particularly striking.
Unlike many contemporary dance makers McGregor has a fine sense of theatre. He can use the stage and tease the eye. Is what he does light entertainment or high art? Perhaps it doesn’t matter. With his interest in multi-media and virtuality, he is taking dance into new directions.
What can be said for sure is that Wayne McGregor is evolving a fascinating dance grammar, very leggy and very rubbery. While it is eclectic, its debt to ballet is obvious. It deconstructs the body in a vaguely Forsythe-like way. The result is considerably more fluid, if not altogether lyrical. However the jury is still out on whether he can move beyond grammar.
After the performance McGregor and his dancers came on stage at Sadler’s Wells to take questions from the audience. Asked about why he had opted to run a company as well as being a choreographer, he replied that being surrounded by his own dancers gave him an extended opportunity to experiment. As a guest choreographer with another company, this was only possible to a limited extent. “I feel braver and more confident with people I know very well”.
He explained that his use of technology was “an extension of the choreographic palette”. And he rejected any suggestion that he risked compromising his dance values in a fascination with new media. “To make a relationship with new media, you have to go both ways”, he said. But he was clear that dance was the crucial driver.
McGregor also spoke of his forthcoming project with the Kirov Ballet. He has already been to St Petersburg and has decided with which dancers he is going to work. There is to be a delay: the work will be given not in June this year, but in 2003. “It was fantastic to be in the environment of the Maryinsky Theatre”, he said. “These dancers have a hunger to experience something new. They have a phenomenal physicality and they are really inspiring”.
A member of the audience mischievously asked if McGregor had found that same hunger at the Royal Ballet. “I did”, he replied. “That group of dancers really chose to be there. Duo:logue was a fantastic opportunity. They were very positive and up for challenges”. And he had gained too. He had become more deeply interested in classical ballet, both in terms of choreographic structure and its construction of the body. For his part, he too was building a grammar. “I start with a dysfunctional language and I formalise it”.