Culture & Conversation

A Kinetic Onslaught

Dubbed by critics as the current rock star of international ballet, 40-year-old British dancemaker Wayne McGregor is leaving more than just his dancers breathless. With a high-speed, wholly distinctive movement language and commissions by the world’s leading companies piled high, Britain’s top contemporary choreographer definitely has his mojo in full swing.

McGregor makes his hotly-awaited Montreal debut at Théâtre Maisonneuve as part of the 2010-2011 Danse Danse season with his London-based company Wayne McGregor/Random Dance and his hit piece from 2008, Entity.

Entity is a two-part abstract dance for ten performers set to original music by Joby Talbot (dissonant classical with cello) and Jon Hopkins (big beat electronica). A steady stream of solos, duets and group scenes unfold amidst three moveable walls upon which grainy black-and-white videos – mostly vague floating forms and a greyhound running – are sometimes projected. Sleek-bodied dancers wear black mini-shorts and white tank tops in the first half; men are bare-chested and women strip down to black bras in the second. Just another day in European contemporary dance, really.

But Entity’s true centrepiece is McGregor’s sophisticated stage sense and his signature movement style full of shimmering gestural detail. Frenetic yet laser-precise articulations of the body pushing physical extremes recalls the later work of ballet deconstructor William Forsythe – zipping up and unzipping the body’s lines along careening axles and with uncommon rhythmic nuance – and yet McGregor adds a tactile dimension that is wholly his own.

With backs overarched and ribcages unhinged, arms undulating like electric flagella and hands alive like alien sensory nodes – ever-alert, curling, unfurling, lashing energy all the way through the fingertips, McGregor’s classically-trained dancers spell through space with sinuous, gulping bravura, exploring the maximum exposed surface area of their bodies and the outer edges of flexibility.

While the choreography maintains the same viscerally maxed-out, high-velocity register throughout its 60-minutes – a kinetic onslaught that does numb a bit by the second half, McGregor’s skill with spatial organization keeps the fine details of his work popping. Where space might shrink or lose its clarity during complex group passages on another choreographer’s watch, here McGregor creates great moving textures on stage that activate the eye, forcing it to travel and shift between hard and soft focus.

A moment in Entity’s busy landscape can contain both static-y patches of whipping limbs and glowing points of stillness, lifts in subtle dialogue with low cantilevered bodies elsewhere – strong counterpoints reminiscent of Merce Cunningham’s multi-(or anti-) focal stage.

Wayne McGregor founded his company Wayne McGregor/Random Dance in 1992 at the young age of 22 and sent shockwaves through the dance community in 2006 by becoming the first ever contemporary choreographer to be appointed Resident Choreographer of The Royal Ballet. Known for his collaborations across the visual arts and sciences as well as for his use of new technology, McGregor’s highly sought-after creations already feature in the repertories of the world’s greatest companies – Paris Opera Ballet, La Scala, Nederlands Dans Theater I, San Francisco Ballet, Australian Ballet, New York City Ballet, and an upcoming 2011 commission for Bolshoi Ballet.

Entity’s latter half devolves into a bass-throbbing, oddly-sensual club atmosphere, losing some of its clean movement formalism and idiosyncrasy to Latin ballroom flair and socket-busting legs inspired to whack and hook even higher. However, these more accessible devices – showy virtuosity and sleekly-styled couplings backed by massive electronic beats – might simply be appreciated for the gut-rousing, propulsive energy they harness. In this respect Entity reminds of last year’s Danse Danse season opener, another acclaimed British choreographer and theatre-packer, Hofesh Shechter, whose walloping, high-decibel recipe for popular appeal cannot be ignored in a field that so often struggles, or forgets, to reach wider audiences.

Entity runs at Théâtre Maisonneuve through tonight, wrapping up its three-city Canadian tour. Visit Danse danse for more information.

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