thu 25/07/2024

UnDance, Mark-Anthony Turnage/Wayne McGregor/Mark Wallinger, Sadler’s Wells | reviews, news & interviews

UnDance, Mark-Anthony Turnage/Wayne McGregor/Mark Wallinger, Sadler’s Wells

UnDance, Mark-Anthony Turnage/Wayne McGregor/Mark Wallinger, Sadler’s Wells

Three artists test the boundaries - and stretch our understanding

'UnDance' in rehearsalAll photos courtesy Sadler's Wells

It is unusual in art for collaborators to be of equal star-wattage. The pairing of Benjamin Britten and WH Auden was one such. Another, much longer-lasting, was Stravinsky and Balanchine, a partnership of equals that endured for nearly half a century. More recently, Antony Gormley has worked with both Akram Khan and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, to great effect.

Can Turnage, McGregor and Wallinger replicate these? This has been the question.

undance muybridgeThe answer is, unequivocally, yes. Wallinger took the lead, presenting a rich brew of possible starting points, which included the idea of the “window” created by the Renaissance architect Alberti, a grid through which artists learned to create perspectival views, merged – or meshed – with the grid the 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge used to measure movement as he created stop-motion photography to break motion down into its component parts. There was also a side-exploration of verbs listed by the sculptor Richard Serra (“to roll, to crease, to fold, to store, to blend”) and the idea that the UN’s logo might also, in trouble spots, be read as "un-" – un-do, un-learn – “a plea,” as he said, “for redemption in places where we have messed up”.

Turnage then set up dichotomies, finding ways of presenting both dualism and duality over eight sections, with some lovely orchestral writing, especially for the woodwinds. McGregor in his turn took on concept and score, and starts with first principles: his 10 dancers, in flesh-coloured T-shirts that allow his dancers to resemble Muybridge’s naked athletes, line up in front of the squared graph of a backdrop. Behind them, a film of their actions runs slightly out of sync, mirroring, shadowing, or sometimes paralleling as they work their dancerly way through Serra’s and Turnage’s verbs – Run, Twist, Jump. 

undance mcgregor rehearsalThis sounds very cerebral, very contemporary art-speak-ish, but it is in reality lovely, extraordinarily musical, and much simpler in performance than in conception. McGregor’s hyper-extended vocabulary here seems entirely apposite, a way of testing the boundaries just as the grid measures boundaries, the film shows endings and, looped, endlessness. His trademark moves – not just the sky-high extensions, but the tiny little flicked jumps that come out of nowhere, the bends, the bows – echo Turnage’s music, not slavishly, but respectfully and with a sense of reciprocating pleasure. The very complexity of Wallinger’s ideas has been taken by all three men to produce a masterclass in unified thinking. 

The first half of the evening is less successful. Turnage’s 1997 one-hander opera, Twice Through the Heart, is masterfully sung by mezzo Sarah Connolly, who gives a performance of shining simplicity and truth as the battered wife who murders her husband and is twice incarcerated: once by her abuser, then by the law. McGregor, directing, has placed her in a black set, furnished only with a table and chair (beautifully lit by Lucy Carter, who also did the lovely lighting in UnDance).

Unfortunately, the piece has had 3D designs superimposed over it by OpenEndedGroup (Marc Downie, Shelley Eshkar and Paul Kaiser). Some of the designs are very beautiful. Illegible "writing" unscrolls in a legible/illegible duality. The spider-webby, slightly Miss Havisham air the designers have created is interesting. But sometimes their response to the music is plonkingly literal – the line “When I might wash you away” is accompanied by a picture of a sink – and often merely decorative.

The problem is not with the design itself, but the fact that the 3D specs darken and flatten the “real” 3D object on stage – Sarah Connolly. Connolly and Turnage create a true and terrible world. We need nothing else.

Watch a rehearsal video of UnDance (SWT)


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