Sunday, February 12, 2012

Elsewhere Bodies

Along with Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon, Wayne McGregor would seem to be one of the current It-boy choreographers of the ballet world. But not necessarily because of his facility, as with Ratmansky and Wheeldon, for re-imagining and re-invigorating traditional story ballet. Rather, McGregor--a conceptualist choreographer par excellence--is sought after precisely for the ways in which he is able to make classically trained dancers move in such radically new ways, shifting the axes of their bodies, in particular, from the form's built-in predisposition toward vertical alignment, precision, and symmetry to a new circuitry based on horizontal dispersion, unsteadiness, and asymmetry. Re-wiring kinesthetic expectations--both those of his dancers and his audiences--is what McGregor's aesthetic is all about.

And most of his experiments in this regard start with his own company, Random Dance, formed way back in 1992, long before he became resident choreographer of London's Royal Ballet (in 2006). A research cauldron that McGregor uses to explore, among other things, the relationship between technology and live bodies in both the creation and delivery of dance performance, Random Dance was at the Vancouver Playhouse on Friday and Saturday in DanceHouse's presentation of their acclaimed work, Entity, which has been touring the world since its premiere in 2008.

If, as many cognitive scientists have suggested, knowing begins at the level of sensory-motor recognition and enactment, with embodied patterns and behaviours that we first observe, incorporate and then repeat in a manner that is at once mimetic and deeply kinesthetic, then McGregor (who, it should be noted, has been Artist-in-Residence at Cambridge University's Department of Experimental Psychology since 2004) wants to interrupt the received social and physical messages we routinely send from our bodies to our brains and back again. Why, to move left or right, or forward or backwards, do we automatically lift one leg first? What if the movement begins with a dipped shoulder, a thrust pelvis, or a bobbing head? What if, instead of extending a limb, as expected, we fold it, or cross it over another? Why not see pointing and flexing as consubtantial rather than oppositional?

By asking himself--and his dancers--such questions, McGregor is able to compose some startlingly original movement patterns. And if, in Entity, those patterns begin in a bodily architecture based on the ideal proportions of da Vinci's Vitruvian Man (in addition to various mathematical projections that reference Fibonnaci numbers and the Golden Mean, McGregor's dancers are exemplary in their archetypal perfection), they do not end there. Indeed, the undulating spines, twisted poses, and recombinant partnering of the 10 dancers in this piece force us to rethink, again and again, the whole premise of natural, designed, and engineered movement.

On that score, I have come to realize, in writing this post, that I don't really have the language to describe in any precise detail what the movement in Entity actually looks like. I could say that at times last night I was reminded of the drag ball voguing from Paris is Burning, or the playground roughhousing of children, or amoeba darting and shifting under a microscope, or droplets of water detaching and reattaching themselves on a smooth surface. But this somehow makes the piece sound like an extended, and overly studied, exercise in movement analogy--a reading McGregor in part encourages via the opening and closing projection nods to Eadweard Muybridge. However, this ignores the obvious sensuous pleasure that McGregor takes in so muscularly exploring different proprioceptive responses to the elsewhere of bodies moving through space. And the equally obvious delight we take in discovering that elsewhere within ourselves: as we twist and contort our torsos while watching, and then again as we struggle into our coats after the piece is over.


No comments: