Wayne McGregor: Autobiography

Sadler’s Wells, London
March 14, 2024

In 2017, Wayne McGregor turned his attention to the ‘body as archive,’ with Autobiography (1.0) being the first in a developing series of ‘unique dance portraits’ inspired by important personal memoir, the ordering of which in performance was determined by an algorithm and the sequencing of his own genetic code.

For this latest iteration of the work, the notes on the Sadler’s Wells website talked about AISOMA, apparently a new AI tool developed with Google Arts and Culture, that trains machine learning on McGregor’s huge choreographic archive, overwriting its initial form to present fresh movement options, and new content into the choreography. “Life, writing itself anew,” it says.

This was useful, as there was zero information provided at the performance, not even a list of the dancers. However, the above is a simple precis. It actually read way more complicated than that, so much so that I still have little idea what much of it was talking about. Have you ever felt you had landed in a parallel universe, where everyone, while ostensibly speaking English, is in fact speaking in a foreign language?

Hannah Joseph and Jasiah Marshall in Wayne McGregor’s Autobiography
Photo Ravi Deepres

Having said all that, the dancing was outstanding, technically brilliant. McGregor’s choreography, or it is AI choreography, is creative, innovative, and exciting to watch. Until it isn’t. That is to say, the same patterns of dance steps, and sequences, are repeated again and again. Perhaps the AI got stuck in a choreographic ecosystem rut. Whatever, it suggests that McGregor’s 100 hours of choreographic archive is in need of fresh McGregor input.

Matters are not helped by the designs. The lighting is entirely composed of blacks and greys; with the dancers in… blacks and greys. Unsurprisingly, this has the effect of making them disappear a lot of the time. Added to that, a horizontal strobe streaked the audience causing a total whiteout for seconds at a time.

Projected captions, high above the stage, announce the titles of the different chapters but they seem to have little connection with what happens below.

The music is unpleasantly jarring, excepting a Ravel-like piece used for a superb duet. I wish I could have told you who the pas de ‘deux-ers’ were but, you guessed, no information.

At the end, half the audience stood-up to give McGregor and company a standing ovation, the other half stood-up to get out of the theatre as quickly as they could. No prizes for guessing which half I was in.