Company Wayne McGregor
Kay Theatre at The Clarice
University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland
January 28, 2017
by George Jackson
© 2017 by George Jackson
As the resident choreographer of Britain’s Royal Ballet and as a professor at Trinity Laban Conservatoire but also as someone with temporary assignments such as a psychology fellowship to the University of Cambridge and making dances for diverse companies around the world, how does Wayne McGregor (born 1970) keep himself from becoming bored? By having a small company of his own. Established in 1992 and currently consisting of 9 dancers, the group – minus McGregor but led by associate director Odetta Hughes – visited the University of Maryland to interact with students and give a single performance for the public in the Washington, DC area.
Photo from "Atomos" by Ravi Deepres.
Bodies writhing in a steamy downshaft of light open “Atomos”. The soundflow that accompanies the motion seems almost to be music, although silence is audible as well. Some of the bodies are paired and may be enjoying one another, some seem perhaps to be relieving tensions while yet others just writhe supplely. This scene doesn’t last long but it gave me the most enduring image in the entire work, which is said to last an hour and five minutes. Another scene that made a somewhat lasting impression had the dancers stand or advance in straight line formations. Evoked for me by the writhing actions were bath houses in the real world and purification rituals in purgatory. The lineups suggested sports activity and team formations. Much of the rest of the dancing seemed to be about fulfilling technical challenges, particularly those arising from partnering. Sometimes the action hinted at personal emotions or interpersonal relations, especially when performed by dancers with expressive faces. While all of the cast was physically adept, the extent of displaying feelings varied.
Technically, McGregor – in collaboration with his dancers – uses a range of motion types.There are athletic, balletic, pedestrian or prosaic, and spastic actions. They may be presented straight, mixed or fused. In the program notes, McGregor mentions his concern with the body, its atoms, its relations, its reality or artificiality. In making this piece he and the dancers coped not only with computerized intelligence but also with e-anatomy. Additionally, I suspect (and as the company’s alternate name of Random Dance implies) the process involved some sort of chance procedure. Like the late Merce Cunningham, McGregor deploys happenstance rather than intent somewhere in assembling the final product. Rolling dice to determine what comes next or what should be juxtaposed can result in welcome surprises in the short-term. In the long-term, the result is a leveling, an averaging, a monotony. Was that why the sequence of motions in “Atomos” became boring despite the material’s diversity of sources? Undoubtedly, choice and intent had also been involved in the construction, but not enough.
People have quipped that McGregor is Cunningham for cowards. Compared to that master, who could be quite subtle, McGregor is forthright. There is more main action, less counterpoint. The music (Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran’s “A Winged Victory for the Sullen”) sometimes functions atmospherically with the dancing, more often not. The visual design components (McGregor’s set, Lucy Carter’s lighting, Ravi Deepres’s film and photography, Studio XO’s costumes) also varied in bonding with the motion of the bodies. The set’s handsome purple and brown squares were extremely formal compared to the dancing and the costumes. The film work’s 3-D effects seemed superfluous. Harmonizing shrewdly was the lighting. All in all, the atmosphere of “Atomos” was that of the campus of a good college.