Atomos, Wayne McGregor|Random Dance, Sadler's Wells Theatre | Dance reviews, news & interviews
Atomos, Wayne McGregor|Random Dance, Sadler's Wells Theatre
Swathes of talk a befuddling distraction from breathtakingly excellent dancing
Some choreographers get turned on by stories; others by music; yet others by the unpredictable magic of rehearsal room chemistry between dancers. Wayne McGregor, the shaven-headed, lanky, black clad superstar of British contemporary ballet, apparently needs a few research scientists, and a question philosophers have been trying to answer for three thousand years: what is a body?
This is the question heading up the programme notes for Atomos, the new piece by McGregor and Random Dance which had its world premiere at Sadler’s Wells last night. Helping McGregor and his dancers to answer it were live, digitally-manipulated music by A Winged Victory for the Sullen, lighting design by longtime McGregor collaborator Lucy Carter, and costumes that had been 3D printed (not that I could tell from looking at them) by Studio XO, self-declared “pioneers in ‘the internet of everything’ for the body”.
The palette of 'Atomos' is that of 1950s science-fiction - mauve, sand, burgundy, black and fluorescent green
First, let me say, each to their own; I’m genuinely pleased for McGregor that his high profile and commercial success enable him to work exactly the way he wants to with Random Dance. I admire him, too, for his restless need to question his own practices, and for the dedication with which he pursues collaborations with cognitive scientists, develops computer aids to choreography (what was previously the Choreographic Thinking Tool now seems to be a 3D “interactive digital object” which looks like a robot but moves like a human), and constantly imagines new ways to transform moments of inspiration into dance.
And yet, if you watch Atomos with its framing inquiry in mind – if you seek out interviews with McGregor, visit the exhibition, or read the programme notes – you will not be any closer to answering the original question, what is a body? Nor – crucially – will you enjoy the production any more than if you came at it quite uninformed. The wrapping of talk that McGregor’s creations come swathed in is (much like the 3D glasses given to audience members at the beginning of Atomos) a befuddling and unnecessary distraction from what is truly, breathtakingly, excellent: the dancing.
The ten dancers who make up Random Dance are by all measures superb – you won’t see better outside a major national company. For the seventy-five minutes of Atomos they are on stage almost constantly, and their bodies are bent, stretched, twisted, inverted and spun around by choreography that demands relentless energy and focus. McGregor’s instantly recognisable choreographic language combines the free movement grammar of contemporary dance with the sinuous grace and long extensions of ballet – a particularly exhausting combination for dancers to nail because it requires total fluidity and total control, as well as the ability to do things wrong while still looking right.
McGregor loves to bring his dancers out of turns in a counter-intuitive direction or to shatter and reassemble classical movement sequences. A striking example in Atomos is a pas de deux set over a cello solo. The situation is classical, but the movement cannot stay that way – arms are held up in fifth, then dive to the floor, while a developpé à la seconde is interrupted by a partner coming from behind at the most un-balletic waist level.
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