Atomos

Choreography by Wayne McGregor, sound score by A Winged Victory for the Sullen
Random Dance
Sadler's Wells Theatre

Atomos Credit: Ravi Deepres
James Pett and Daniela Neugebaur Credit: Ravi Deepres
Michael-John Harper and Catarina Carvalho Credit: Ravi Deepres
Fukiko Takase Credit: Ravi Deepres
Michael-John Harper, Daniela Neugebauer and James Pett Credit: Ravi Deepres
Alvro Dule and Anna Nowak Credit: Ravi Deepres

A deep buzz fills the theatre and on the smoke-filled stage a red-lit mass to one side gradually emerges as a group of writhing bodies.

A horn-like sound emerges and long limbs appear and bodies gradually disentangle. They move as if swept by great waves or gales as light gets stronger and we see them clearly.

This seems to be a ballet that is about space and interaction, the segments that create society, form bodies and make up movement. Its setting and 3D video sequences present a pixelated world from which individual atoms and digits from scrolling data come forward until so close they disappear.

Its choreography, which McGregor credits as a collaboration with the dancers, apparently takes it inspiration from an unnamed sci-fi movie, its images deconstructed into their minutest parts then used to build a new creation in a new form.

It has involved the use of a digital construct built from biometric data that he calls Becoming, a sort of computerised equivalent to a body: a tool with which to provoke the creation of new movement. But, interesting as such information may be, you do not have to comprehend it to respond to the intricacies and patterns of Atomos and the honed skills of Random’s dancers.

The score by A Winged Victory for the Sullen (Adam Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran) with its mixture of electronics, piano, guitar and a live string trio, deep drones and instrumental cadences seems to create new acoustic spaces. Lucy Carter’s continually changing lighting seems to change the physical space.

The choreography frequently contrasts the static with the moving. A dancer holds a pose in front of their moving colleagues or performs a solo as others become motionless. Often five couples will simultaneously be dancing very different yet complementary choreographies; this is a ballet that will require many viewings to appreciate its complexities.

The dancers’ movement sometimes seems animal or insect and one of the video sequences, pulling back from a single ant to show a seething, overcrowded globe, hints at parallels between the insects and the way in which the individual and sometimes quirky characteristics of each dancer can sometimes join in ordered unison.

Industrial images for some reason suggest Chernobyl and physical mutation, or is this a power plant or a rocket launch site? Are the moving columns of numbers, the count down digits, the burst of flame a launching; a fragmented red disc a planet that is the destination?

At one point, the multiple television screens turn black and white to show different dancers, multiple choreographies to register as well as the live dancers beneath them.

Ravi Deepres's film and 3D interventions may emphasise space and its spacial exploration but it is the interaction of the dancers' bodies that forms the core of McGregor’s choreography, movement that may come from possibility not need. Its origins may be the forms the Becoming “tool” had offered.

What makes them so rivetingly watchable is that they are performed by humans, challenged by their shapes and tensions, and creating something that is very beautiful to watch.

The costumes by Studio XO are apparently fashioned with “wearable technology” but either I was too engaged by everything else to register what was special about their contribution or they should be congratulated that it is so well integrated into the whole.

This is a piece in which the whole company shine but, though each dancer may have individual moments, it is a fluid, continuous work that draws its energy and grace from the way each dancer contributes to the ensemble.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton