Interface between Humans and Technology in McGregor’s New Dancework

United KingdomUnited Kingdom A Winged Victory For The Sullen:Atomos, Wayne McGregor | Random Dance, Sadler’s Wells, London, 9.10.13. (JO’D)


Dancers: Catarina Carvalho, Travis Clausen-Knight, Alvaro Dule, Michael-John Harper, Louis McMiller, Daniela Neugebauer, Anna Nowak, James Pett, Fukiko Takase, Jessica Wright

Musicians: Dustin O’Halloran (Piano, Guitar, Electronics), Adam Wiltzie (Piano, Guitar, Electronics), Sophie Bayet (Violin), Charlotte Danhier (Cello), Christelle Heinen (Cello), Margaret Hermant (Violin, Harp, Piano), Neil Leiter (Viola)


Concept, Direction & Set:   Wayne McGregor
Choreography: Wayne McGregor in collaboration with the dancers
Music: A Winged Victory For The Sullen
Lighting Design: Lucy Carter
Film & Set Photography: Ravi Deepres
Costume Design: Studio XO

As the ten dancers of Atomos spread out across the stage from the cone of dry-ice filled light (similar to that in Meryl Tankard’s The Oracle, only less bright) in which they are at first grouped, they seem to discover themselves both as discrete organisms and as they relate to the other nine organisms around them.  Each has his or her own ‘movement signature’, but does not develop it in isolation. Like ceaselessly moving cells under a microscope, they join together in twos or threes, only to separate and reform. As much as by the dancers themselves, the mood of these duets or trios is determined by Studio XO’s costumes (designed, according to the programme, for ‘generation digital’), by the way Lucy Carter’s lighting picks out the colours on these, and by the music for electronics, piano or strings that is played live (offstage) by A Winged Victory For The Sullen.

Twenty minutes into the piece the dancers disappear as seven video screens descend, deus ex machina-like, from the flies. The audience puts on the 3D glasses given out by the ushers. On the screens above them, the dancers reappear, in black and white and dressed in different clothes. Music for strings that reminds one of Górecki accompanies these images (supporting the theory that, for ‘generation digital’, technology has replaced the sacred.) When the ‘real’ dancers return, the screens switch to colour: fluorescent greens, oranges and reds. In one, very effective 3D moment small squares of black seem to float off their orange background to fall on the fast-moving figures below.

The balance (or perhaps the interface) between the technological and the human is handled in a way that is somehow less cold, less analytical than elsewhere in Wayne McGregor’s work. The screens go back into the flies; the dancers take centre stage again. They move now, the male dancers especially, in a way that often distorts the body: chest thrust forward, shoulders and hips pulled back, spine curved. As he did with the Chimeras of his ‘Raven Girl’ at the Royal Opera House in May, McGregor seems determined to present a dislocated and imperfect body on the dance stage. Whatever he means by this particular trope, in its constant, questioning, imperfect movement his choreography seems to reflect some essential aspect of life as it is lived now.

In recorded interviews at the ‘Thinking with the Body’ exhibition at Wellcome Collection in Euston Road (timed to coincide with the world premiere of this work and on until the 27th October) the choreographer talks about his collaboration with cognitive scientists and digital artists to create an ‘interactive digital object to support dance making in the studio’. Film of the dancers interacting with the latest prototype of this object, which was used in the preparation for Atomos, is shown in the final room (side chapel?) of the exhibition. This film is also accompanied by music for strings that suggests transcendence. The work itself, however, ends in a rather low-key, human, even endearingly flawed way: three dancers spinning off into darkness. If it was flawed, the audience, who had sat for sixty-five minutes in concentrated, fascinated stillness, showed everyone concerned their readiness to let this pass.

John O’Dwyer