Wayne McGregor is one of our more prolific choreographers. His company, Random, now resident at Sadler’s Wells, has become one of the UK’s most successful groups, and he’s also been making works for other companies, including the Royal Ballet (Symbiont(s), 2000), Rambert (Presentient, 2002) and English National Ballet (2 Human, 2003). This year, for the first time, he has invited other choreographers to work with Random, both to stretch and enliven the experience of his own dancers and to vary the style of the company repertory.
One of the first outside companies for which McGregor choreographed was Shobana Jeyasingh’s (with Intertense, 1998), so it is appropriate that she was one of the two choreographers invited to work on his Polar Sequences programme. Jeyasingh’s work and career has in fact overlapped with McGregor’s on various counts: they shared the same office at The Place for some years, they’ve both regularly used costume designer Ursula Bombshell and lighting designer Lucy Carter (as in this show), and not least, they both share an interest in the formal qualities of movement and in ideas about technology, albeit from different perspectives.
an angularity and articulation in which we can almost see the skeletal anatomy of the dancer
So it is no surprise that Jeyasingh’s contribution to Polar Sequences sits very comfortably on the company. The opening solo, for example, shows an angularity and articulation in which we can almost see the skeletal anatomy of the dancer in the clear shifts of weight, the jutting displacement of hips and shoulders, the rotations and torsions of the limbs. The performer is certainly a Random dancer and the choreography certainly Jeyasingh’s, but the seams are all but invisible, the Jeyasingh touch being most apparent in the greater attention to the hands and fingers, and in a certain grounded quality of movement.
The ambience is polar, almost frigid. Andy Cowton’s electronic score makes use of ‘white’ noise, that later fractures and splinters like shards of glass. The six dancers are costumed in sleek trunks and ruffled steel-blue tunics, and Lucy Carter washes the stage with cold blue light, or pierces it with shafts of luminous green. The dancers traverse the stage in solos or massed groups, dotted with little boxing or jogging movements and spliced with tense partnering, tugs and leans. And it is in the partnerwork that Jeyasingh seems to have gained the most from the Random dancers, in the tilting, off-centre duos and trios, in the shifting lifts and balances that make you realise how self-sufficient her own dancers can sometimes seem. Jeyasingh’s compositional intelligence is readily visible, yet – unusually – it was hard to discern a clear underlying idea or purpose to the work, which in the end seemed more like a choreographic study than a finished piece.
a simple central idea: how to make a stir-fry, as demonstrated by a chef who sets up table at the back of the stage
The next piece, by Portuguese choreographer Rui Horta, was a far more theatrical work than Random is accustomed to. It is based on a simple central idea: how to make a stir-fry, as demonstrated by a chef who sets up table at the back of the stage. The sequence goes: wash, chop, fry, eat. A lone woman drifts and tumbles around the stage, then a second cuts in for the slicing section, as a third tapes a circular area on the floor to define the edges of their virtual wok, before throwing herself into the fr(a)y. These ‘ingredients’ sizzle together in a sliced and diced mixture of movement that brings out the flavours of some interpersonal dynamics. But subtly, not strongly. When the food’s ready, the dancers line up to receive ther bowlfuls, which gives the chef his chance to twitch and jerk in a tantrum of temperamental anxiety (the creator’s prerogative). It is a lightweight piece, but its legibility and gentle comedy are disarming.
If these violent extremes certainly pack a punch, they leave little room for reflection
Poles apart again was McGregor’s own finale, for the full company of 10 dancers, with stark contrasts between its several sections. The wings are open, and the stage is set with a skewed square on the floor, lit again by Lucy Carter. It opens in antique, melancholy mode, the company paired into couples who reflect and refract each other’s bird-like moves – wilting swan arms, twitching necks – like ripples from the tides of longing that wash from Purcell’s score. Abruptly the mood shifts to harsh white light and blaring electronic noise, the dancers stabbing the air with high kicks, bionically rolling their limbs on the axes of their joints. The sound turns into a pure monotone as we’re plunged into darkness, except for strips of fluorescent light marking the stage edges – a thin blue line policing the borders of the floor, traversed by a lone, fugitive man. This gives way again to an explosion of thumpingly heavy rock (by Marilyn Manson) that sends the dancers into a controlled frenzy of sleek technique, all slashing limbs and pugilistic partnerwork. A sudden stillness provides a welcome rest, as much for the audience as for the dancers, who lie down in serried ranks, like pod people in an incubator. But the screaming score soon reanimates them back to their alien, super-human state. If these violent extremes certainly pack a visceral punch, they leave little room for reflection; and the combined effect of thrashingly nihilistic musical energy with the robotically drilled discipline of the dancers is disturbing, almost fascistic.