Saturday, January 18, 2014

Wayne McGregor | Random Dance

presented by San Francisco Performances
Lam Research Theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
January 17th, 2014

When it comes to describing dance, the terms ‘contemporary’ and ‘modern’ tend to be used somewhat synonymously; many dance critics and historians (including this particular writer) treat them as equivalent terms. And most of the time, it works fine to use these two words interchangeably. It’s not bad practice or lack of understanding, just a current convention in the literature. That is, until you witness a company like Wayne McGregor | Random Dance - an ensemble that is absolutely contemporary. They embody many different performing arts genres - modern, ballet, dance theater, interdisciplinary, mixed media, hybrid – but at the same time, are able to transcend the typical understanding of each type. Seeing Wayne McGregor | Random Dance in performance qualifies and clarifies the term ‘contemporary’ in relation to today’s dance and choreography.

2010’s “FAR”, presented by San Francisco Performances, is a work that epitomizes the wonderful otherness of this contemporary dance troupe. The curtain rose to reveal four dancers standing with lit torches, a featured couple and a multi-media white background - a hypnotic beginning to a piece that revealed both the depth and nuance of McGregor’s choreography. Over its sixty minutes, “FAR” toggled between vast physical extremes and moments of intimate introspection. And it worked. Full body rolls and an overabundance of splits (resulting from developpĂ© and grand battement) spoke of the former, while slight (though defined) movements of the wrist and in the solar plexus declared a quieter, meditative state. Perhaps the best example of this choreographic duality was the section that showcased the five men of the company. What began as a sumptuous duet eventually and seamlessly evolved into a full group sequence. A truly inspired variation, super-passĂ©, cabriole and the reverence bow reflected equal parts physical intensity and quietness of spirit. In addition, McGregor’s treatment of the pas de trois (one of the most difficult choreographic challenges) was another highlight in “FAR”. His inventive and intricate groupings created stunning visual configurations and revealed internally complex canon structures.

“FAR” was a complete sensory experience, definitely visual and sometimes auditory as well. Technology interplayed with movement in the form of a mobile white backdrop, adding illumination as well as numerous juxtapositions of shadow and light. It was certainly ‘cool’ but also really knitted the choreography, score and narrative together. When it comes to collaborative theatrical elements, McGregor usually hits just the right mix. If too many additional things are injected, the dance can get lost and the balance of the piece is compromised. The music, choreography, visual effects, set design and lighting in “FAR” worked well toward a comprehensive whole. Although, it was a little strange that some minor vocalization and body percussion was thrown in at the three-quarter point. It seemed a little superfluous, like an afterthought.

Photo: Ravi Deepres
The dancers in Wayne McGregor | Random Dance are extraordinarily talented, communicating McGregor’s complex choreographic ideas with artistic sensitivity and technical acumen. Having said that, there was some unevenness amongst the women. About a third of the way into “FAR”, the women were featured in a brief quintet. With all of them on stage at the same time, it was clear that a couple of the dancers lacked freedom in their neck and shoulders. It almost looked like a physical disconnect or block, which in the end, did not allow a full realization of the movement.      

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