Company Wayne McGregor at Sadler’s Wells, London
July 26, 2018
Wayne McGregor, generally a dance force to be reckoned with, is a choreographer much influenced by science. Autobiography is an exploration of memory, genetic makeup and the recollections that have played an important part in his life; an exploration of the body as a living archive. However, it is sometimes difficult to identify this within the movement vocabulary of the work, which echoes his signature sleek style but lacks any genuine connection to what he set out to illustrate.
With his ten athletic dancers, McGregor is spoilt for choice when it comes to stage talent. They are joined by live accompaniment from electronic music innovator Jlin, designer Ben Cullen Williams, lighting designer Lucy Carter, artist Aitor Throup and dramaturg Uzma Hameed. It’s a combination that surely guarantees innovation and dynamism in itself. Yet the evening dipped and strayed from its path at times, with only the dancers’ skills pulling Autobiography back on track.
Perhaps, as a piece, and as the term ‘autobiography’ suggests, the work is only truly meaningful to McGregor, his series of personal dance portraits algorithmically assembled and performed in a unique sequence at every show; a nod in the direction of Merce Cunningham’s use of chance in choreography.
The movement is fresh, though. Never laboured, extensions stretch as far as the eye can see, with tons of technique. McGregor’s signature jabs, jerkings and contortions are frequently softened for Autobiography, with the movement often flowing and fluid through use of the floor, each dancer contributing separate elements to the work.
But, Autobiography refers to McGregor’s individualism, so do his dancers ultimately convey this? The movement becomes more frantic and the flow is increasingly interrupted as the evening and movement progresses, individual algorithms juxtaposing movements inadvertently. There is never any indication as to what will appear next, be it dry ice, blinding light, a line of chairs or a lighting rig intending to trap the dancers beneath it.
To this end, Autobiography is defining of McGregor’s work, but while the performance as a whole was impressive, the communication of the dancers lacked somewhat, only peeking out occasionally from behind a whacked-up leg from a couple of those on stage. It is possible that greater all-round engagement from the dancers with the movement being embodied, with McGregor’s intentions of a serious exploration of the internal architecture of an exceptional human being, might then be realised by the audience too.
The preparation behind Autobiography is certainly impressive. McGregor had his entire genome sequenced by the Genetics Clinic of the Future earlier this year, and the result, a DNA blueprint, formed the basis for 23 dance sequences, selected and sequenced afresh for every performance. So far, so good. However, the work distinctly lacks the personalisation so widely referenced in the programme notes, and sadly morphs into many of the other works of this avenue of dance. A performance from McGregor himself, à la Akram Khan, might have held more meaning and clarity in terms of the subject matter, regardless of how beautifully his dancers dance.