Tom Strini

Grim energy from Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance

By - Mar 14th, 2010 04:00 am
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Wayne McGregor/Random Dance presents Entity this week.  Photo by Ravi Deepres courtesy of website.

Wayne McGregor/Random Dance in “Entity.” Photo by Ravi Deepres. Courtesy of website.

Wayne McGregor’s innovative, energetic and relentlessly grim Entity is like the hippest, toughest aerobics class in hell. Looped video of a running greyhound opens and closes the piece, and it tells us something. McGregor directs dance animals, and they will run — for their supper, not for the fun of it.

The dancers wear black briefs over bare feet. They eventually shed their white tanks, leaving the men bare-chested and the women in black sports bras. It’s all about the work the body does, and that requires exposure.

The five men and five women in his Random Dance company tilt and twist their bodies and limbs into shapes you don’t see elsewhere.  They and McGregor showed a fondness for the grotesque. They sometimes pulled shoulders back and thrust bellies out and skewed fingers knees and necks in ways suggesting defect or injury. Dancing from such postures automatically communicates the high physical effort behind the art, something many dancers strive to conceal.

Entity is not static. A great deal of high-speed shape-changing goes on in place. Sometimes it happens in duets and trios, which drives home the point that this intense, spasm-like activity is not random or improvised. Dancers walked on with a determined tread — nothing looks casual or easy in this piece, not even simple walking — jumped into ensemble, finished with it and walked off.

The 10 dancers joined in ensemble only for a moment or two during the one-hour work. They began as free atoms and collected into free-floating molecules of twos, threes and fours, all offering different readings on the same music. Partnering — man-to-man, woman-to-woman, woman-to-man — is central. Of course it was intense, and physically if not emotionally erotic. Some of the contact suggested wrestling and some of it recalled the sort of rococo theatrical gymnastics you see in Cirque du Soleil.

The difference is in the legs. All 1o Random Dancers have fabulous ballet legs and can get them way up. MacGregor sometimes uses this ability to further grotesque effect, but sometimes uses it to show a nice, long, balletic line. Those fleeting moments of grace came as relief. I would have welcomed more.

Joby Talbot and Jon Hopkins shared credit for the score. Having heard Talbot but not Hopkins previously, I suspect the former is mostly responsible for the lyric stuff (a nice bit for cello is in the mix) and Hopkins provided the pounding Electronica that drives the piece.

The beat is heavy through most of the hour, but the dancers don’t respond to it much. They move more to the groaning and odd melodic gestures going on above the beat. That accounts for the herky-jerky rhythm in the dancing and the eccentric phrasing.

The music and the stark, sometimes harsh, lighting add to the pervasive atmosphere of oppression.  A wide rectangle covered with white muslin serves first as a backdrop, then rises to become a screen for projections. We see what might be teeming microorganisms;  later, columns of numbers tremble on the screen. I can’t pin down exactly what McGregor might be trying to say about humanity, but I can say with certainty that it’s not so cheerful.

This program, given Saturday night, was part of the ever-ambitious and daring Alverno Presents series at the Pitman Theater of Alverno College. For more about Random Dance, the resident company at Sadler’s Wells, London, visit their very cool website, which has lots of video.

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