Posts Tagged ‘Random Dance Company’

Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance Company – “Proprius” – Covent Garden Piazza

September 13, 2008

Today I had the good luck to be able to make it to the Royal Opera House just in time to see an outdoor performance of Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance Company’s new work, “Proprius.” I was, of course, there to see the various events of the Ignite Festival – but the luck came in because I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it at all. You see, I have someone visiting me from America this week, and this person doesn’t care for theater-type stuff, and this has meant that I, for all intents and purposes, have been living a life of Total Abstinence. Aaargh. In fact, we were supposed to spend the day at the Leighton House, because said house guest enjoys architecture, and I was going to have to abandon my dreams of spending my day surrounded my installation art and fresh new dance stuff. WAH!

And yet … my friend came down with a cold, and she was too tired to go out, so suddenly we were able to do anything we wanted to and off we went to Covent Garden, for the arts festival I’ve been wanting to go to for well over six weeks. At the very moment we arrived, people were just getting arranged on stage for “Proprius.” I said, is this not kismet? I sat down on the cobblestones (see my point of view here) and got ready to watch the performance – not having read a single thing about it. Ah, well, it’s hardly the first time.

The key element of Proprius is, obviously, the fact that it has a huge cast of London school kids in what seemed to be the 8-14 year range. The dance started with these young folk on stage, about ten of them, a real panoply of faces and body types. It looked to me not like they had been plucked from dance schools, but rather that they were completely unaccustomed to the vocabulary of modern dance. What I was watching was them interpreting a language I knew very well through their own, untuned bodies (and to some extent minds – I’m sure it was very new to them). Wayne’s movement style is very familiar to me – a way of doing trust falls, of lifting and carrying other dancers, of turning people using your heels, of balancing in a way that’s just not quite standard in modern dance – a way I find far more intimate and involved than most modern dance, and certainly ballet – that totally says, “This is something Wayne McGregor created.” It’s a language that is as clearly itself as Chinese or Japanese – I would never mistake it for Korean just because it was in a different context. And it’s difficult, and it’s, I think, not something people wrap their heads around easily – it doesn’t really have a basis in the “language of dance” that people outside of modern dance aficionados have in their heads (think of ballroom dancing or club dancing or even how people dance in musicals – it’s not modern dance at all).

And yet, these kids got it. They lifted and carried, they leaned and moved, they bounced off of each other, they did their best to be the dancers they had been asked to be, and they carried it off. They weren’t just trained monkeys moving into position as asked (a problem for me with nearly any performance involving children is a certain robotic approach to what they’re doing, as if the independence had been stamped out of them); they looked at each other and thought and got into it and they danced. I was really absorbed by them and their difference from usual dancers; the youngest ones (especially the boys) were a bit gawky, the older girls were frequently of a more normal body type than dancer women are (which made them move differently, though their own inexperience seemed to be the real delimiter of movement style), and their faces communicated more than they may have wanted to. (I especially felt for one girl who got kicked in the face by someone else who couldn’t see where she was; she looked pretty unhappy, but big points to her for soldiering on.)

I realized while I was watching them that they actually represented a lot more of what I think London is like than I ever see in dance troupes; profoundly multi-cultural, with a range of life experiences. They also danced like they really cared about doing it well. I got bizarrely excited about this, in part because I get frustrated about how overwhelmingly white (or perhaps culturally segregated) dance tends to be. I was reminded of the Ballet Black show that I had found so disappointing several months back. These kids showed enthusiasm and embraced the technique so well that I wondered if any of them harbored dreams of being dancers. Why couldn’t this be the school performance of the ROH’s ballet school? I wanted to watch their technique continue to develop!

AHEM. Interspersed between the sets done by the groups of kids – there seemed to be about forty of them, and they were dancing in groups of ten to twelve – were sets done by the adult members of Random Dance. They were doing the usual McGregory moves – curling over each other, carrying each other, making me go gah! as they balanced on one foot then raised the other leg to be parallel to their bodies (with their feet next to their heads!), being tight and thoughtful and gorgeous and making me wish I always sat so close to the stage when watching dancers.

I was fascinated by the difference between the adults and the children. Clearly there was a huge discrepancy in terms of professionalism, but in addition to the variation/benefit ten years of dance training will make, there was also the change that the aging had done in terms of development of muscles and bodies. These dancers could do more because they had more to do it with. In some ways, it was like listening to language spoken by skilled adults, complete with rhymes, puns, and literary allusions. (Alas, I took no notes and cannot discuss the dance in much more detail than this.)

About two thirds of the way through the piece, a very different group of young dancers came on stage. I was pretty curious about what was going on – many of them were wearing glasses and they stood and carried themselves differently. I realized that, in his groups of kids, Wayne had added in a batch of developmentally disabled kids. “Wow,” I thought. I have never seen kids like this dance on stage. What was going to happen?

Well, what happened is that these kids, who’d clearly been rehearsing along with the rest of the group, got out there and danced. The vocabulary was still the same, and their faces were far more communicative than even the other kids’ were, and they did show their frustration visibly at times (I think there may have been some confusion about what was supposed to be happening), but they still moved, and moved in ways that were clearly recognizable as a choreographed dance. It felt a bit like Wayne had done some things to make the movement such that it might be more clearly cued off of other dancers’ movement, so that they were helping each other figure out what to do next, and there wasn’t so much in the way of lifts and trust falls – but they weren’t being coached by someone standing on stage, they were doing it on their own. And I thought, wow, this is so cool. We really do have a group of dancers that really reflects the richness of London. I liked seeing that on stage. They weren’t being pandered to or talked down to, and we as the audience weren’t being talked down to, either. I felt like, this is our community, these kids are a part of our community, and we’re all sharing in this experience of what dance is and how it “sounds” different depending on who is speaking it but the words and the language structure are still the same. And I was really proud of Mr. McGregor for really going for it, and for making it successful, and for treating these kids with respect as performers just as much as he had the other group.

The final bit was the adult dancers performing with the kids from earlier in the performance, and I loved it. The adults were really into it, seeming to be very enthused by working with the more inexperienced dancers – not at all bored or put upon, but rather wanting to very much see these girls (I think it was mostly girls for the last bit) look good and do their best and make a good showing. And the kids rose to the challenge. One girl, a black girl with curly golden braids, just sort of turned into a professional dancer in front of my eyes when she partnered with a gorgeous male Random Dance company member – she stood up straight, she looked completely serious, she moved great, SHE rose to be as good of a partner for him as he was for her. It reminded me of how, when I sing with someone who’s a great piano player, I suddenly find all of these notes and ornamentation coming out of my mouth that I didn’t know were going to be there It was fantastic and very energizing for me as an audience member.

Overall, I found this a really uplifting performance and a real pleasure. McGregor didn’t compromise his choreography because he expected less of his dancers (I mean, technically clearly he didn’t try to get them to do moves they couldn’t, but the intelligence of his dance was in no way diluted), and I felt, as an audience member, really pleased by what I got to see.

And after this there were so many cool things to see inside the opera house for the rest of the festival! (Alas, no time to review them today.) Ultimately my only regret was that I couldn’t see all of the installations and performances in the time remaining me (especially the “Chocolate Tasting: Interactive” event – just my kind of art). I do really hope Ignite becomes a regular event at the ROH and every year we celebrate the birth of the new season with a weekend of riotous, thought-provoking installations, events, and performances in the friendly confines of Covent Garden and the Royal Opera House.

(This review is for the 2 PM performance that took place on Saturday, September 13th. Proprius will be performed again September 14th at 1 and 3 PM in Covent Garden in the corner in front of the Royal Opera House entrance. Admission is free.)

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