Do cyborgs choreograph? Is there dance on Mars? Ask Wayne McGregor: an advanced-level humanoid who explores such questions in dance form.
Wayne McGregor was born in 1970 in Stockport. As a youngster, he liked computers as much as disco, ballroom and Latin dancing. He studied contemporary dance in Leeds and New York before founding his own company, Random Dance, in 1992.
McGregor’s early pieces revealed him to be an utterly distinctive soloist. With his elongated limbs, he looked like a hyperactive stick insect rendered in a 3-D modelling program.
He has been as hyperactive in his career as a choreographer as he was as a dancer. Alongside creating many works for Random, he has worked in theatre (including The Woman in White and several plays for the National Theatre and Peter Hall Company), in opera (La Scala Milan, Scottish Opera), and film, most notably for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. He has also created site-specific performances for the Houses of Parliament, the Pompidou Centre and the Natural History Museum. He is a vigorous, hands-on player in youth and schools dance projects, and is involved in some ongoing research projects with university scientists to explore body-brain connections.
On top of all that, McGregor has made several works for ballet companies, including the Paris Opera Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet and Royal Ballet. In 2006, the Royal Ballet appointed him resident choreographer – the first in 16 years and the first ever to come from a non-classical background.
When not speeding around the world, McGregor can occasionally be found on the island of Lamu, off the Kenyan coast, where he has built an arts retreat.
As McGregor began to choreograph more and dance less, his performers became much less like McGregor replicants. But there are certain McGregor hallmarks: speed, extreme positions, hyperarticulations, dancers who appear to be constantly multitasking, as if moving simultaneously in several different dimensions. The resulting choreography often feels on the cusp between boundary-pushing and control-freakery.
Science and technology are popular McGregor themes, appearing sometimes in the staging (thermal imaging on screens, prosthetic limbs, digital animation) and sometimes in the process (using computer-generated models or ideas from neuroscience and cardiology as source material).
Film-maker and photographer Ravi Deepres has a long association with McGregor. Laila Diallo and Anh Ngoc Nguyen are two notable Random dancers. More unusual collaborators have also played a big part in McGregor’s work: Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop, as well as various scientists such as cognitive psychologists, neurologists and cardiologists.
As McGregor says, he “changed the demographic of Hogwarts”. When choreographing for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, he refused to use stage-school students, working instead with 400 children from schools in east London.
In his own words
“It’s funny, people tell me that my work is futuristic, but I always say it is about what is happening right now.” – Interview with Peter Aspden, Financial Times, 2008
“Is there a danger of science taking over my work? I don’t think so. My passion is making things with the body.” – Interview with Debra Craine, Times, 2008
In other words
“Wherever he goes, ideas fizz around McGregor like manic static.” – Judith Mackrell, Guardian, 2006
“His abstract ballets constantly rethink the principles of movement and expose limbs and joints to extraordinary degrees of hyperarticulation.” – Debra Craine, Times, 2008
“A great sexy beast of a piece – it’s like being licked by a panther’s juicy, rasping tongue while you’re revising maths.”
David Jays on Entity, Sunday Times, 2008
“If you think about it, we are all made of mechanisms and neurones and codes and stuff. Human hardware and software. That’s more fundamental to dance than characters and stories, isn’t it?”
“Are those the same teeny shorts the dancers wore in the last piece?”
William Forsythe, who is interested in technology and technique, and Klaus Obermaier and Johannes Birringer, who are also dance and technology boffins.
Now watch this
Where to see him next
Start by checking the Wayne McGregor|Random Dance website for performance dates.