Opening on the poignant notes of Vivaldi’s aria ‘Sposa son disprezzata’, Wayne McGregor’s latest work for Random Dance, FAR, reveals its first element of novelty. Yet, in many other ways, this piece is the climax of his recent works as it hints at recurring motives whilst digging deeper into his research on the interaction between the mind and the body.
The curtain rises on what looks like a secular ritual. Four dancers carry torches whilst on the dimly lit stage two bodies grip and let each other loose as they stretch like malleable matter. Human voice and natural light are newcomers to McGregor’s work and discreetly usher the audience into an acoustic canvas of electronic sounds at times as subtle as hums, others so high-pitched that they are hardly bearable. The voice then comes back in the form of extracts from Roy Porter’s Flesh in the Age of Reason set to hypnotic music by Ben Frost.
The use of music as a choreographic device is common to McGregor’s pieces and there are other elements in FAR that remind us of his past works. The geometric shapes and the numbers working as a backdrop that both accompanies and initiates movement are reminiscent of Limen, performed by the Royal Ballet earlier this year. Similarly, the mobs of dancers striding on stage evoke the crowd of passers-by in the 2008 piece Infra. Yet in FAR these elements are not simply re-used but reinvented. The geometric patterns become cones of light pierced by nimble limbs stretching in multiple directions. When the dancers hit against as well as clutch to one another they stage a battle of bodies that is also a battle of minds and compel the audience to constantly swing between abstraction and physicality.
In fact, as abstract as McGregor’s choreographic language may seem, it constantly enlivens the dialectic between thought and sensuality inherent to the inseparability between the mind and the body. Dance as an intellectual, not merely instinctive activity, deploys the wide ranging potential of the body to articulate its relationship with the mind. But bodies are not alone on stage. They hide and come to the fore in the geometric patterns of light and shadows created by the ingenuous light and set design of Lucy Carter and rAndom International. Lights project forms and make room for the dark marking different moments within the piece, each with its own distinctive atmosphere. The result, as in every full-length work by McGregor, is not just a choreography but an engrossing experience of which music and lights are integral parts.
FAR is a demanding piece. It can be subtle and delicate as well as violent and disquieting, putting the audience under emotional strain. Many may well find it overwhelming and detached from their immediate perception of reality. On the contrary, this piece is but an exercise for recognition. It is a non-narrative tale of the human being laid bare. We are drawn towards immateriality as much as we are bound to our feral nature and, by pushing the audience back and forth between these two dimensions, McGregor’s piece prompts us to recognise ourselves. Sometimes it is necessary to behold from a-FAR to make out what really makes us human.