What’s the big idea behind Big Dance? The biannual London-based programme is designed to big up the profile of dance through a network of assorted events, performances and classes. As part of the Cultural Olympiad, Big Dance 2012 was bigger than ever, extending across the country and with a grand finale in Trafalgar Square featuring a thousand performers from 30 dance groups. Big is certainly the word.
Thankfully, Big Dance Trafalgar Square, directed by Wayne McGregor, avoided the militaristic overtones that can sometimes hang over such Olympian spectacles, with their drilled sequences and mass movements. Instead, the overall feel was of an ordered but unregimented flux.
Members of McGregor’s Random Dance company worked separately with the dance groups (encompassing an enormous range of ages, styles and abilities) to create their own choreography based on common themes such as throwing, running and jumping, or relayed actions. The 45-minute event itself was a series of scenes, each featuring several dance groups performing simultaneously, to atmospheric electronic music (rhythmic but not thumpy) by Scanner and Joel Cadbury.
The result was a bit like watching an athletics field that’s been stripped of any idea of competition: fluid hubs of purposeful activity; people in white tabards, each daubed with an Olympic-coloured dot, flowing along lanes and tracks; abstract actions that might hint at racing, or judo, or archery, or handball; and in the middle, lovely duets with the Random dancers in McGregor’s characteristic hyperextended style, but gentler and spacier, as if to emphasise kinetic beauty rather than physical achievement.
The ending did bring on massed movement in unison, but overall the work was much more nuanced than you’d expect on this scale, deftly balancing human diversity with choreographic coherence. And though black clouds threatened above, it never turned into a big raindance.