Wayne McGregor’s ‘FAR,’ Durham, NC

Written by:
Alyssa Schoeneman
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Wayne McGregor’s ‘FAR’

Random Dance (international tour)
Artistic Director: Wayne McGregor
Choreography by Wayne McGregor in collaboration with the dancers
Presented by Duke Performances
Reynolds Industries Theater, Durham, NC
Feb. 25, 2012

Inspired by Ray Porter’s book, “Flesh in the Age of Reason,” Wayne McGregor’s “FAR” took a clinical approach to dance, showcasing the lines, creases and curves of the human body without invoking significant emotion from the dancers.

The evening-length work began with a calculated duet set to opera music. Surrounded by four leotard-clad torchbearers, two dancers in nude flowed through long lines, balletic jumps and quick floorwork with clinical exactitude. The bare-chested male dancer explored hyperextension in his shoulders, arms and wrists, quickly establishing body musculature as a major point of focus in the piece. Though an intense kinetic energy was evident between the two dancers, the opening duet lacked emotional connection; the work’s sterile aura was enhanced by this choreographic choice.

Torches gave way to a huge electronic lightboard in the work’s second section, paying homage to the harnessing of electricity in 1752, and perhaps to the rapid technological advancement of the present-day. Bright white light illuminated a male soloist as he created circles and spirals in his body through turns, floorwork and distal gestures; the dancer made brief stops in linear poses, and then initiated a wave with a single body part as a means of transition.

McGregor subtly characterized certain dancers by assigning them unique movement styles, but “FAR” did not emphasize individual self-expression overall. Instead, McGregor used grouping — both by number and by gender — and selective moments of unison choreography to explore the dancers’ relationships with one another.

A trio of women early in the piece was nymph-like, entering in a fog and dancing with an air of mystery. The women engaged in shifting duets and solos that emphasized the length of their limbs and their somewhat sisterly bond. Late in this section, two women showcased their physical endurance and balance by perching on forced arch, their bodies folded into ball shapes for what seemed like forever without a hint of a wobble.

McGregor brought an unexpected sexual tension to the stage in the work’s next section, in which the dancers formed a semicircle and watched one another “battle” in a sense. Pairs of men and women took to the center in aggressive duets set to heavy breathing in the accompanying audio track; non-featured dancers snaked through different poses, introducing a level of voyeurism to the work. The technical execution on this section was flawless, with the exception of one missed lift in the center that left a female dancer face-up on the ground instead of soaring through the air.

An all-male section that followed played off of this sensual theme, allowing dancers to adopt a softer movement quality; choreography in this section read as compassionate and gave the dancers a certain vulnerability that, until then, had been absent in the work. Unfortunately, overtly compassionate gestures in this section made emotional connections between dancers seem put-on, not organic.

McGregor’s later sections incited palpable tension in the audience; dancers referenced religious imagery and the proverbial principle “Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil,” all accompanied by the sounds of animals being slaughtered and by text from “Flesh and the Age of Reason.” The audio track questioned, “Are we animals or angels?” as the choreography became a little too narrative to blend seamlessly with the rest of the piece.

It was not until “FAR”’s final movement, a duet with clear ties to love, loss and sacrifice, that McGregor took the audience beyond a showcase of corporal beauty, physical strength and stamina. In contrast to previous intimate pairings, the dancers in this section seemed to have a genuine bond that was evident in their physical relationship.

From their performance, it is clear that the Wayne McGregor / Random Dance company members have the “FAR” choreography deeply ingrained in their flesh and bones — and after a lengthy applause from the audience members and a well-attended post-show discussion, attendees were clearly in awe of just how much those dancers’ flesh and bones could do.

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