Choreographer: Wayne McGregor, in collaboration with the dancers
Reviewer: Jo Beggs
McGregor’s autobiographical piece, which premiered at the 2018 Edinburgh International Festival, is something of a new take on the re-telling of a life. Having sequenced his own genome and selected twenty-three memorable life moments, McGregor has created an episodic work that, like life, is visceral, lyrical, chaotic, and unpredictable. The latter is the case for us and the ten dancers on the stage who have to alter the order of the episodes each night, determined by a bespoke algorithm.
McGregor is perhaps one of the dance world’s greatest collaborators, making work that relies heavily on soundtrack, design and lighting, and Autobiography is no exception. Music by Jlin flips from zen bells and birdsong, from baroque to trance. The altered order of the episodes makes for a sometimes jarring, often surprising juxtaposition.
Aitor Throup’s simple costumes and Ben Cullen Williams’s set design create strong visuals, and Lucy Carter’s lighting design pulls it all together. A huge grid of lights and inverted steel pyramids sits threateningly above the stage, at times dropping to a height where the dancers can only roll and crawl beneath it, a claustrophobic, hostile place for bodies that yearnfor space to move. Lighting is almost entirely white, the dancers almost all in black. When colour is used it floods the stage with green, yellow or red, and creates a powerful atmospheric shift.
McGregor’s choreography celebrates the sheer strength of his dancers, the extraordinary power and potency of their bodies. In one scene they are barely clothed, sculpted and slick with sweat. They stand at the front of the stage, looking out directly at the audience, on show and vulnerable, remarkably beautiful, yet disturbingly confrontational. There’s no hierarchy, clever costumes blur genders. Every brilliant dancer gets their moment of focus.
There’s nothing obviously autobiographical about the piece, dealing, as it does, more with emotional interactions than with straightforward story-telling. There is certainly some emotion on show though – love and violence and heartache, humour and hatred. There are fleeting moments of martial arts, of break dance, of sex and sexual disappointment. There is the pent-up energy of youth, the testing of physical boundaries. There is harmony, and there is dissention.
All too rare scenes with solo dancers and duets are some of the most mesmerising. At times when the whole company are on stage the choreography loses focus and all seems a little chaotic. In these scenes the piece can feel a little repetitive, but the alternating order of the episodes may account for this, and on a different night the shape of the piece could well feel very different.
It can’t be underestimated how technically challenging this show is for everyone from the dancers to the technicians. However, this complexity seems to be detrimental to the potential choreographic shape of the piece, ultimately creating something that is rather unsatisfyingly structured.
Reviewed on 30 April 2019 | Image: Contributed