Wayne McGregor | Random Dance: Live review
The flickering, zoetropic image of a dog is our point of entry to ENTITY, the 2008 dance London’s Wayne McGregor made in collaboration with his company. The pooch is running at a full clip and at the limit of its range of motion, but its endurance is artificial: The grainy projection is of a single triumphant stride repeatedly looped. The nine dancers in ENTITY do a pretty good job of convincing us that their endurance is endless, too, but by the time they’re in the home stretch, signs of fatigue are creeping in. I noticed them in myself as well.
Earlier this week, I described watching McGregor’s choreography as “like being fed a Grant Achatz dish off a fork designed by Philippe Starck held by Jonathan Ive wearing nothing but a pair of Prada briefs.” Nothing about ENTITY compels me to rescind that statement. The piece may last over an hour, but at the end it’s a single bite. Challenging, complex, nuanced, bold, absolutely—all of that. A delicious course that piqued my appetite for a meal that never came.
McGregor‘s trademark style is a quicksilver tangle of absurdly facile limbs, coolly wrapped in chic design and selling sex with an enormous brain. References to the world outside of concert dance abound—Muybridge’s photographic proof of unsupported transit, the golden ratio, white tank tops dashed with the black stains of a sequencing gel—but they rest on the movement like eyeglasses on a naughty librarian. Replace those cues with a different set—fatigues, maps, and video shot with night vision—and you’d have a dance “about” military tactics just as much as ENTITY is “about” geometric harmonies and DNA evidence.
Not that it’s an unpleasant experience. Each second of ENTITY is an orgy of detail and a new contortion of the human body, and these rare dancers able to execute McGregor’s movement obviously love to do so. It’s a thrill watching each individual wring out his or her role like a wet rag. Sky-high legs meet grotesquely-torqued arms at odd angles, follow momentum to the next knot, then coldly snap apart as their owners stride in opposite directions. Like Karole Armitage, Alonzo King and Édouard Lock, McGregor’s work is an application that runs on the operating system of classical ballet: For every step with no name, there’s an enveloppé, pirouette en attitude and pas de chat. Fifth positions are a frequent default. Also shared with that trio is a fluency with the duet form his solos and ensemble dances can’t quite match; blessedly, ENTITY is largely danced by pairs, both homo- and heterosexual.
It’s a musical pas de deux as well—Joby Talbot and Jon Hopkins’s scores firmly dictate the mood. If they were played in that order, Talbot’s is the more satisfying of the two: The final 15 minutes of ENTITY suffocate beneath a wash of aggressive techno that screams “grand finale” as loudly as the succession of flipped-switch lighting transitions (by Lucy Carter) and unison dance sequences. Ravi Deepres’s video design is equally prosaic, half of it artfully-arranged static, the other half black-and-white closeups of skin borrowed wholesale from Calvin Klein and Herb Ritts.
The reason to see this company, and the reason to love it, is the conviction and ability of its performers and the moments in which McGregor firmly and baldly shows a choice no one else could make. One duet leaves the woman’s hand flung out behind her—her partner briefly kisses it before their hurtling manipulations continue. Frenetic crab walks are like close-ups of a cockroach on the deck of a sinking ship, scampering up an incline headed toward vertical. One dancer runs to another solely to compare the lengths of their humeri, then leaves. Random’s dancers are a dream team—there was nary a stumble, even during ENTITY’s most preposterous tasks. They attacked each action as though it were their last, ran like they’d never stop.