Mini-review – FAR – Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance at Sadler’s Wells

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I have a complicated relationship with Wayne McGregor, but I won’t document it here: these days, what matters is my friend Wechsler likes him, and I like going out to dance shows with him, so we were absolutely going to see FAR, his latest show currently on (and sold out) at Sadler’s Wells. After my dismal failure to get “Entity,” I forked over for a program, and was given these ideas to muse upon: FAR is short for “Flesh in the Age of Reason,” the title of an Enlightenment era book exploring the relationship of the body to the soul.

This was a thought that sparked my brain off, and, as the curtains came up, I was greeted by four dancers bearing torches with a couple between them, dancing to music by Vivaldi (I think). I imagined the formal music capturing the highly structured society of that era, which the dancers’ bodies represented; controlled bodies, and controlled minds. Only … that control cannot continue, for the mind and the body do not always accept the control put on them. Thus the torchees fading into darkness, thus the dancers disappearing … bringing us into a strange world, perhaps today, marked by a brilliant burst of white flickering lights from the illuminated sculptural entity at the back of the stage.

At this point … well … what am I supposed to say about the dancing that is not just a blow by blow? I’ve changed how I’m spending my time at dance performances now because I spent too much time thinking about what I would say when I was watching the dance (and taking notes) and not enough time watching and experiencing it; this composing and writing was causing me to be unable to get fully into what was going on. There was the same gawky movements as I’ve seen before with McGregor, but now, when I saw them, my mind obsessed on a note in the program in which he talks about “the distorted body,” wondering if when I saw a position that looked unnatural, if I was assuming the dancer was hurt or expressing mental trauma. So I focused on these movements, occasionally flipping to thoughts like “they all look like they’re wearing American Apparel” to “is that reallly supposed to be rape or is that just how I’m reading it” to “I wonder if that big light box causes epileptic fits.” I also yawned a lot and just had a very hard time focusing on what was happening (not helped by having a rather big head in front of me – oh the curse of getting side seats due to faffing about buying tickets). At the end, finally, we had a clear death on the stage, and the light board seemed to be showing the last shimmer of neural synapses as a human’s light goes out – the brain continues to fire for a while – but then less and less – and then the light goes well and truly out.

My overall impression is that the piece seemed to show a lot about how we fight against our exterior programming, and that its our bodies’ desires that overtake the attempts at hardwiring and control that are externally imposed on us. I also thought the group scenes flowed much better than a lot of things McGregor has done in the last two years (i.e. the very yawny “Dyad 1909“) and there was certainly less grotesquerie just for the sake; but I wasn’t really able to grab a narrative. Still, it was a beautifully realized piece in terms of the other production elements, and while I’m not sold on the dancing, I did think it was worth seeing a second time to reflect upon it when my own mind wasn’t fighting so hard at being where it was. And I thought briefly, at the end, maybe I was right when I thought that McGregor was the most likey inheritor of Merce Cunningham’s crown; he’s certainly trying to make something that is so much richer than just a bit of pretty people doing pretty movement in pretty dresses – though I think I might not have minded just a bit more pretty on this evening.

And before I close, Ismene Brown reminds me: once again, Sadler’s Wells has produced a work that literally hurt my ears. This is one of two main complaints I have as an audience member about the venue. They must have a better concern for their audience than to abuse us with overly amplified noise. My other fuss is that they leave the front doors open so that the smoke from in front is blown all the way in as far as the bar; it’s just intolerable and they should institute a complete smoking ban along the entire Rosebury side entrance OR keep the doors shut. But it’s the noise that really bothers me; I should not have to bring earplugs with me when I go to see dance.
(This review is for a world premiere performance that took place on Wednesday, November 17th, 2010. FAR continues through November 20th, and if you wish to see it, please don’t despair at its sold-outtedness – daily tickets are often announced on the Sadlers’ Wells twitter feed, and you can pretty much guarantee there will be just a few returned every single night before the show that won’t make it onto the website. Be persistent!)

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