Wayne McGregor is a rare talent. Supremely intelligent and creative, he has forged a new language of dance, one which is uncompromising and always challenging, especially when he works with his own company Random Dance. He collaborates closely with his dancers encouraging them to take extreme risks, devising moves which can often appear contorted and unnatural, challenging our preconceptions of beauty.
McGregor is profoundly interested in the relationship between mind and movement and is investigating this by working with scientists to try to understand the very essence of the creative process itself. This fascination with cognitive psychology is evident in his latest work, FAR, which is also inspired by Roy Porter’s history of 18th century explorations into body and soul, Flesh in the Age of Reason, from which it takes its name.
The performance opens with the stage in darkness, a simple black box with a screen to the rear, illuminated only by the element of fire in the form of flaming torches held by four of the dancers. Within the flames a pair of dancers perform a series of graceful, faux-classical movements in harmony, to the sound of a classical soundtrack. The peace of this natural world, of mind and body in congruence, is suddenly shattered by a startling change in direction as the company of ten dancers embark upon a series of increasingly tortured, tangled, jagged movements. The dancers are impressive to watch, attacking the choreography with courage, impressive strength, precision, and apparent ease. The move from harmony to discord as the physical and psychological first split and then ultimately enter into conflict, is enhanced by a shift in the music and the intrusion of technology. The screen at the rear of the stage explodes into life, lighting the stage with a variety of effects from fizzing sparklers to a pervasive fluorescent light so bright that it was uncomfortable. The music was equally discomfiting, and at times so overly loud that it was bordering on the painful.
The transition from mental and physical unity to fragmentation takes place within the first half of a sixty minute performance. It is striking and absorbing, but disappointingly the journey ends there. There is little further development or variation, no narrative, nowhere else to go and little that is memorable until the final scene when the light and life fizzle out simultaneously on stage.
The intellectual premise of FAR is intriguing but despite the commitment of the dancers and the production team it doesn’t quite deliver. Wayne McGregor is living proof that dancers have an intellect and he has every right to challenge his audience and to make us think, but I would question quite how far he needs to put us to the test.