United Kingdom A Winged Victory For The Sullen, Atomos: Wayne McGregor | Random Dance, Sadler’s Wells, London 13.2.2015 (J.O’D)
Music: Dustin O’Halloran (Piano, Electronics), Adam Wiltzie (Piano, Electronics), Charlotte Danhier (Cello), Margaret Hermant (Violin), Neil Leiter (Viola)
Dancers: Catarina Carvalho, Travis Clausen-Knight, Alvaro Dule, Michael-John Harper, Louis McMiller, Daniela Neugebauer, Anna Nowak, James Pett, Fukiko Takase, Jessica Wright
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
When it premiered at Sadler’s Wells in October 2013, Atomos was presented as something cold and blue and technological. For its return, nearly a year and a half later, it has been repackaged as something warm and red and human. The introduction to the first programme spoke of ‘atoms’, of ‘scientific and cognitive research’. The introduction to the second refers to dance, ‘that is at the same time emotional and cutting edge. Emotional because it refers to the interconnectedness of human beings.’
Now that the dust has settled on ‘Thinking with the Body’ exhibitions at the Wellcome Insitute and interactive digital objects for the dance studio, Atomos emerges as eighty-minutes of ‘extreme’, overlapping, interconnected movement that do come to have emotional impact. ‘Alien fatuities’ was a phrase used in 2013 by The Financial Times critic, Clement Crisp, to describe McGregor’s Raven Girl for The Royal Ballet, where he is Resident Choreographer. But his work has also been described by Helena Hammond of Roehampton University as ‘ultimately humanist in its affirmation of the body’. Atomos, I think even more this year than last, is an example of the latter.
There are video screens, seven of them that descend from the flies. The audience does have to put on glasses, for fifteen minutes or so, to watch the 3D effects. The dancers do disappear, briefly, to be replaced by ethereal versions of their moving selves on the screens. For most of the time, though, they continue to move about on the stage below. After floating squares of black and the flames of burning oil refineries, lines of text are displayed (in fluorescent green lettering). The dancers stop moving to recite. What they say can not be clearly heard.
The final sequence of images shows first one, then a group, then hundreds, then thousands of fluorescent green insects moving in a growing circle. An expression of the ‘spirit of the beehive’ that connects the dancers themselves? While they have all the space they need to perform it, their movement takes place in a context. It is always the response to, or impulse for, the movement of another dancer or group of dancers.
The movement of the Random Dance company, according to dance historian Giannandrea Poesio, will have its roots in Wayne McGregor’s own ‘unusually long, loose limbs’. Its dancers dip and arch and dive. They move across the stage with one arm raised stiffly in the air. They stand or kneel as a group, like hieroglyphs, with elbows crooked and hands around their eyes. ‘Pick a point in the room and describe it with your hips,’ may have been one of Wayne McGregor’s workshop instructions, as it was for Deborah Bull at The Royal Ballet in 2006.
Helping the dancers are the musicians of A Winged Victory For The Sullen, with their electronics, their strings, and their piano. The costumes of Studio XO may be for the ‘digital generation’, but their different colours, combined with Lucy Carter’s lighting, are of a timeless expressiveness. And this year when, after eighty minutes of dedicated dance, James Pett spins off the stage holding a horizontal Daniela Neugebauer high in the air (while Michael-John Harper reaches out an arm to them as they spin), it does not seem inconsequential at all.