Pay attention at the back! Here comes the science bit: 'it is impossible to understand the organismal or cellular biology or evolution – or human pathology, behaviour, temperament, illness, race, and identity or fate – without first reckoning on the concept of the gene.'
That quote comes from Indian-American physician Siddhartha Mukherjee and has pride of place in the programme notes for Autobiography, Wayne MacGregor’s new work, which has at its root the choreographer’s entire genome.
From that point of view, then, Autobiography is McGregor’s most science-inflected work so far. And yet, paradoxically, it is also one of his most deeply human creations, because McGregor uses science – in the case the genome – as a starting point to illuminate life itself: his own life.
A series of 23 scenes are given seemingly random numbers – 1 followed by 7 followed by 12 and so on – but, in fact, this is because the order in which they are performed is selected afresh for every performance by an algorithm based on McGregor’s genetic code. So, no two performances are exactly the same.
We did warn you there was a lot of science involved…
Anyway, whatever the order which which they come on, the 10 dancers of Company Wayne McGregor inhabit a black stage plunged into a soft haze, of the kind that envelops distant memories.
The visual is stark: naked torsos (the women wearing flesh-coloured skin-tight tops), black skirts with the occasional flash of white. Lighting by McGregor's regular collaborator Lucy Carter relies on naked white lights of varying intensity, at times almost blinding, others milky, just occasionally dimming to blue/violet.
Throughout, and with the soundscape especially created by the American electronic musician Jlin, you watch life pulsate in its infinite variety of moods, feelings, thoughts, in fleeting moments never to be repeated.
Autobiography opens with 1 - Avatar, a solo danced on press night by the remarkable Jacob O’Connell, winner of the 2015 BBC Young Dancer in the contemporary category and new to the company, though you wouldn’t know it to see him execute McGregor’s distinctive and highly demanding choreography as if he’d been doing it all his life.
Avatar appears to be an introduction: the man whose memories, fragments of life, we are about to witness. From then onwards the dancers in a variety of groups and combinations, enact scenes with names like (dis)equilibrium, world, nurture, not I and sleep.
Together those 23 scenes represent stages of one life and simultaneously the 23 pairs of chromosomes which contain the human genome.
You don’t actually need to know that to appreciate the show itself. McGregor’s choreographic language retains its trademark reliance on athleticism, speed and continual, sometimes frenzied, movement by exceptionally flexible bodies; but it appears to have matured and become mellower, more reflexive, less reliant on hyper-extensions and more on the relationships between dancers.
Autobiography carries more emotion than any previous work McGregor has created for his own company (his work for the Royal Ballet, where he is resident choreographer, is a different proposition altogether).
It contains a number of very engaging duets: particularly affecting is the very slow movement that opens world, where two men dance as if moulding each other’s body.
As a show, Autobiography is a solid, at times thrilling spectacle. It is an immaculate blend of all its component parts: highly skilled choreography performed by an exceptional group of dancers, atmospheric music, set design and costumes and lighting – though I do wish lighting designers would give up on the current fashion of shining blinding lights on the eyes of the audience, as we’re trying to watch the dancing…
It is Wayne McGregor at his best, and it’s only the first in a series of projects exploring dance and genetics. We can’t wait to see what comes next.
|What||Company Wayne McGregor, Autobiography, Sadler's Wells|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
26 Jul 18 – 28 Jul 18, 19:30 Dur.: 75 minutes approx no interval
|Website||Click here to book via Sadler's Wells website|