Wayne McGregor Random Dance, SF

The English choreographer attempts to depict "bodies misbehaving"--with mixed results.


Choreographed by Wayne McGregor, Wayne McGregor Random Dance

Lam Research Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

Jan. 17-19, 2014

Wayne McGregor, the celebrated English choreographer “renowned for his groundbreaking collaborations across dance, film, music, visual art, technology and science,” presented a new work entitled “FAR” at YBCA.

According to McGregor’s notes, the work is inspired by Roy Porter’s history of 18th century explorations into body and soul, “Flesh in the Age of Reason” (thus the title FAR). McGregor continues, “And I though that stripping away of layers was analogous to the very beginning of the Enlightenment.” Wonderful… and how does this translate into performance and choreography? Alas, for this reviewer, not very well.

What we the audience are presented with is a series of duets, solos and sometimes trios (rarely any group work), during which the current style of dance acrobats are energetically delivered, albeit in a lively fashion. Beyond the ballet vocabulary (which is most apparent in the formal turns), the new “freedom” is achieved by upper body undulations and various ways of flinging arms. McGregor refers to this activity as “bodies misbehaving… it engages your eye in a way that clarity of line doesn’t.” Perhaps for a generation of movie, TV, computer-viewing, iPhone-probing audiences, such “misbehaving” is satisfying. But other dance viewers might enjoy the composite presentation of clarity of line, varied dynamics and ensemble performance that also define dance.

“FAR” features music by Ben Frost (often very loud and noisy); lighting design by Lucy Carter (violent intensities across a center stage board, sometimes blocking the dancers completely); set design by random (barely visible); and costumes ( minimum shirts, shorts and tights) by Moritz Junge.

Critics have praised McGregor for his experimentation, since he “examines how scientific innovation and rational thought in the 18th century changed human’s understanding of body and soul.” Yet, finally, when such experiments are performed in the theater, they must be shared and appreciated by the audience, whose perceptual levels, challenged though they may be, should be able to identify the dance elements and organization and feel something about body and soul.

McGregor’s “Chroma” and “Borderlands” have been seen in San Francisco Ballet’s repertoire in past years. From February 18-March 1, the 2014 season will bring back “Borderlands.” San Francisco audiences must judge for themselves if McGregor has achieved his goals and visions for today.

San Francisco ,
Joanna Gewertz Harris, Ph.D, is a dance teacher, historian, reviewer, and lecturer. She taught dance and theater at UCB, UCSC, Cal State Hayward and Sonoma, and is a frequent contributor to scholarly journals and books, most recently to H'Doubler, and Legacy in Dance Education, both from Cambria Press. Beyond Isadora, Bay Area Dancing 1915-1965 , her book documenting Bay Area history (Price $40. + 2.00 shipping) is available from her web site beyondsadora.com and her e mail, joannagharris@comcast.net.