DNA in a high-tech frame: Wayne McGregor’s Autobiography

Company Wayne McGregor at Sadler’s Wells, London
October 4, 2017

Maggie Foyer

In Autobiography, Wayne McGregor is doing what he does best: nailing the sometime fluffy world of dance onto a palette of keen design elements and basing it on rigorous intellectual investigation. Performed by some of the best contemporary dancers around, it has moments that literally take your breath away.

We live in an age of autobiography. Never has it been easier to sell your image to the world and tell your story, even if it is only about what you had for dinner. McGregor however, pins his autobiography to a concrete base, using what is fundamental to our very being, our DNA. While this suggests a solid foundation, McGregor ruffles the order by introducing elements of chance in the manner of Merce Cunningham and John Cage, to whom he dedicates the programme. At each performance, the computer randomly draws a fresh coded sequence from the choreographer’s genome specifying the section and the casting for the show thus overwriting the past and keeping the creative juices flowing.

Company Wayne McGregor in AutobiographyPhoto Richard Davies
Company Wayne McGregor in Autobiography
Photo Richard Davies

References to DNA may have little resonance with the audience but if the theme inspires this level of creativity: invention that crackles like a live wire through the evening, then every bit of research is worth the effort. Personally, while the programme notes were intriguing, the dance was sufficient unto itself, dressed in stylish layers and packaged with a sharp eye for current trends.

Despite the high-tech frame, it is dancers who are at the heart of this new creation. The opening sequence, ‘Avatar’, sets the tone in a stripped bare expanse of stage, luminous grey in pulsing LED lights, with swirls of mist to give an apocalyptic aura. A lone dancer tests his ability, stretching muscle and fibre with Olympian fervour in a solo with equal measure of grace and power. Each of the ten dancers is a featured artist and each has a tremendous amount to offer. They work in pairs groups and occasionally in some sort of unison but each seem to find an individual trajectory to explore.

Wayne McGregor's AutobiographyPhoto Richard Davies
Wayne McGregor’s Autobiography
Photo Richard Davies

Electronic musician, Jlin is a real find for the dance world. She is a maverick who leaps across space and time in eclectic bounds throwing sounds that range for metal to melodic into the mix and constantly surprising the senses.

Lucy Carter’s lighting, as inventive as McGregor’s choreography, demolishes traditional boundaries spilling light throughout the space and creating waves of opaque light in magical sequences. The evening rode on a crest of innovation, although less would have been more and there were moments towards the end when the keen edge became soft centred and a little, dare I say, sentimental? However, an evening of such good dance is always welcome.