Wayne McGregor's Autobiography

Concept and direction Wayne McGregor, choreography Wayne McGregor in collaboration with the dancers


Company Wayne McGregor

Sadler’s Wells

From 04 October 2017 to 07 October 2017

Review by Vera Liber

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What Wayne McGregor’s Autobiography is about, Foucault only knows. What I do know is that his dancers—Rebecca Bassett-Graham, Jordan James Bridge, Travis Clausen-Knight, Louis McMiller, Daniela Neugebauer, Jacob O’Connell, James Pett, Fukiko Takase, Po-Lin Tung, and Jessica Wright—are amazing. As is Lucy Carter’s lighting design.

Collaboration is at the heart of McGregor’s work, as always, and that is his strength. Hyperactive ranging mind, hyperactive rangy body replicated in rave club scene (Jlin’s sampled electronica, ambient and mind-blowing, fits that bill) and sci-fi (set designer Ben Cullen Williams’s tetrahedron grid and Carter’s refracted lighting that strafes the auditorium).

Bring to the equation his own genome sequencing and what do you get: an esoteric impenetrable series of snapshots in an order determined each night by algorithms. Each evening is ostensibly unique: a shuffling of the twenty-three captioned ‘chapters of his life’.

“Palimpsesting McGregor’s choreographic imprint over personal memoir and genetic code in a continuous re-imagining, Autobiography unfolds uniquely for each and every performance. Life, writing itself anew.” (Uzma Hameed, dramaturge.)

“To interrogate this layered, luminous and evanescent notion of life-story, McGregor has explored the semantic constituents of the designation. Auto/bio/graphy = self, life and writing.”

Random scenes—Random Dance was the original name of Company Wayne McGregor and it couldn't have been more apt—jigsaw piece clues. Tonight we get chapters 1, 3, 4, 16, 13, 10, 7, 12, 21, 6, 15, 14, 23 (I think), each with their own title, 13 a Beckettian Not I, 14 Lucent—you get the picture, more opaque than lucent.

“…McGregor turns his attention to the body as archive, as he embarks on a cycle of choreographic portraits illuminated by the sequencing of his own genome. The first of these studies, Autobiography, is an abstract meditation on aspects of self, life, writing, refracting both remembered pasts and speculative futures.”

I have a regular young theatre companion, a music producer, who never reads programme notes in advance—he likes to come untainted by persuasion. I, on the other hand like to read as much as I can, but he has a point, the work must be able to speak for itself.

Is it self-indulgent, narcissistic, egocentric, this autobiography, aren’t they all…? McGregor’s interest in AI, virtual reality, cognitive scientific theory and practice is evident. The red-light infused electrified dance in 6 sleep makes me think of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Back to Blade Runner—a seminal influence I think—and boy do the dancers run: a high-energy, high-combustion machine, in separate components and together.

From primitive man (1 avatar)—Jacob O’Connell’s solo is captivating—via animalistic writhing ‘rites of spring’ hieroglyphics, man alone in the universe, thundering portentous music, foghorns and tinkling bells, to 3 (dis)equilibrium a funky club scene of popping beats, acrobatic, floor and contact work, chests puffed out.

In the romantic 4 knowing the bodies turn graceful, each scribbling their own stories. Scribble and scrawl. Light splinters and refracts for 16 world, a male couple dances as others observe—are they robots? Or are they ancestors? Effigies, Anthony Gormley statues or is that old age in 21 remember?

Jordan James Bridge breakdances 13 Not I to a beat-box rhythm—a McGregor alter ego? Rebecca Bassett-Graham joins him in a dance-off. St Vitus’s dance infects them both. The lighting grid lowers for 10 nature, oriental bells and strings, men are serpents and peacocks. 7 traces brings classical and baroque ballet to mind and I see something of Richard Alston—what a surprise.

Another chapter brings chairs on stage (a nod to Pina Bausch?), sea sounds and birds, tropical birds, holidays by the sea? White noise, blinding light, an assault on ears and eyes, and two women spar.

And so it goes, wave after wave of choreography, personal and obscure, washing over us, tripping, anaesthetising, numbing in the end.

Merce Cunningham’s inspiration and his I Ching game of chance infect the dancers seemingly dancing to their own inner tunes, satellites in a huge galaxy. When they do come together, the human elements of love and longing take hold. Lifts and partnering are superlative.

Autobiography is a multi-media art installation, a son et lumière too, and one mustn’t forget Aitor Throup’s deconstructed black and white costumes, black trouser skirts trailing white gauze shirts—McGregor has choreographed fashion show catwalks and fantasy films.

All his interests in an eighty-minute mélange—how does he manage to restrict it to that? He is spilling over with interests that transcend the arts and the science divide, yet his choreographic dialectic remains rooted in his body language signature—difficult to modify that piece of DNA, its “primordial four-letter alphabet soup” (Siddhartha Mukherjee).

The curtain comes down on a single dancer, still spinning and wheeling, an apt Red Shoes metaphor for the man himself.